January 12, 2011

Doubling the flush tax is proposed, with McIntosh as possible sponsor

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By Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com

House Environmental Matters Committee Chairwoman Maggie McIntosh said she will introduce legislation doubling the annual flush tax from $30 to $60 per household “if no one else will do it.”

Lighthouse at Sandy Shoal

Maryland’s Bay Restoration Fund Advisory Committee is proposing the hike. The new revenue is needed, the committee says in its new annual report to the legislature, because the estimated cost of cleaning up the wastewater treatment plants has doubled from $750 million when Gov. Bob Ehrlich first proposed the annual $30 “fee” in 2004 to almost $1.5 billion today.

“This is a tough time to be raising fees and taxes on anyone,” McIntosh told several hundred people on Friday at the “Maryland Forward” forum on sustainability at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills hosted by Gov. Martin O’Malley. But she felt the increase was needed to improve the bay.

MarylandReporter.com reported on the discussion about raising the flush tax in August.

The flush tax hike would apply both to households connected to sewer systems and to those with septic systems. Under pressure from Democrats, Ehrlich accepted amendments to include rural septic systems, a move that was very unpopular among his more rural conservation base.

McIntosh, a Baltimore City Democrat who chaired the coordinated campaign for O’Malley and statewide Democrats last year, repeatedly referred to the “flush tax,” saying it was not really a fee, as the Bay Fund advisory panel still calls it.

The O’Malley campaign had slammed Ehrlich for raising what the ex-Republican governor insisted on calling “fees,” but in a televised debate at The Washington Post in October, O’Malley actually complimented Ehrlich on the flush tax.

The Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund Ehrlich created is coming up dry because of increased construction costs for the plants and equipment for “enhanced nutrient removal.” There are also higher payments for principal and interest after state lawyers determined the Bay Fund would have to sell standard 15-year state bonds, not 20-year bonds as envisioned.

McIntosh said the tax hike was also essential to help meet the stricter new guidelines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to improve the health of the Chesapeake, the largest estuary in North America.

An analysis published last month of the looming deficit for the Bay Restoration fund by Maryland General Assembly staff said (on page 213): “Unless addressed in some way, the

significant funding shortfall in the Bay Restoration Fund will compromise the State’s ability to upgrade all 67 of the major publicly owned [waster water treatment plants]; this may jeopardize the State’s ability to meet the pollution limits required under the TDML [‘pollution diet’]” recently promulgated for the states in the watershed by the EPA.