By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf
House and Senate negotiators working out their differences in the $38.7 billion state budget reached agreement Thursday evening, eliminating provisions on stormwater fees and “House of Cards” property.
An alternative to the stormwater remediation fee proposed by Anne Arundel Sen. James DeGrange was ultimately eliminated from the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act (BRFA).
The amendment would have allowed all of the 10 jurisdictions affected by the 2012 legislation to siphon a percentage of their property taxes to fund stormwater remediation programs, an initiative devised to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. Instead, only Carroll and Frederick counties will be allowed to establish alternative sources of funding for the “rain tax,” as it is derided by its opponents.
The Carroll County government fought for months against the initial stormwater legislation. The state Department of Environment just last month allowed them to use county property taxes to finance their program.
Frederick County, which instituted a 1-cent stormwater fee program, will have to undergo similar negotiations with the Department of Environment, DeGrange said.
“Essentially [Frederick County] didn’t have a plan either,” DeGrange said.
AG opinion said stormwater amendment unconstitutional
The House members had opposed DeGrange’s broad proposal. The senator denied his concession was based on an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office that indicated his original amendment was unconstitutional.
In a letter to two lawmakers, Dan Friedman, general counsel to the legislature, wrote that the DeGrange amendment would violate the Maryland constitution’s requirement that legislation only pertain to a single subject.
While the BRFA pertains to multiple areas of state operations, its overarching purpose is to provide budget stability.
“[The amendment] is unrelated to the funding of state government or balancing the state's budget,” the letter reads.
The provision offering Carroll and Frederick counties the alternative is also woven into the BRFA. Del. Tawanna Gaines, a Prince George’s County Democrat, said the language is uncodified -- not a permanent part of the law.
“It’ll have less impact,” she said.
Gaines said she and Sen. Paul Pinsky from her district, are satisfied with the outcome. Pinsky, a sponsor of the 2012 stormwater fee bill, and Del. Maggie McIntosh, chairwoman of the House Environmental Matters Committee and a vocal supporter of stormwater fees, requested the attorney general’s opinion.
“It’s not smart to move forward with something once you know it’s not constitutional,” Gaines said.
Film tax credit increased
Conferees also removed a BRFA amendment that would have authorized the state to seize the property of “House of Cards” by wielding eminent domain, should the show’s production team attempt to leave the state.
The proposal was a eleventh-hour stunt from Del. Bill Frick, D-Montgomery County, who said last week he wanted to send a message Frank Underwood-style to the producers, Media Rights Capital, who had been threatening to leave Maryland should state leadership not provide an increased tax credit.
Though the amendment was deleted, the conference committee finalized a plan to fund any future film tax credit increases, a likelihood considering the Senate passed legislation that upped the initial $7.5 million tax investment to $18.5 million.
The bill, SB 1051, is currently awaiting a vote in the House Ways and Means Committee.
Gov. Martin O’Malley had allocated the original $7.5 million tax credit, funded in the budget for the Department for Business and Economic Development. The conferees Thursday also decided to approve drawing $5 million Sunny Day Fund and $2.5 million from the Cultural Arts Fund tp pay for the increased credit.
Should the General Assembly approve an $18.5 million tax credit, the remaining money will be taken from the general fund, roughly $3.5 million.
A budget conference committee will reconvene Friday to tackle differences in the capital budget.