‘Rain tax’ on property owners for Bay cleanup survives attempt to delay it

Chesapeake shoreline

The “rain tax” will help fund Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts.

By Ilana Kowarski


An attempt to delay implementation of stormwater clean-up fees that will cost Maryland property owners millions come July failed in the legislature’s final day. The delay died after it was attached to a bill exempting nonprofits and government agencies from the fees known by critics as “the rain tax.”

The amendment to delay the fees for two years was sponsored by Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, D-Howard, who said the timing was not right for an increase in government fees, even though he supported the principle that governments should invest in environmental clean-up.

The House of Delegates committee refused to bring this revision of the bill to the floor for a vote, and the end result is water clean-up fees will be charged to every commercial and residential property owner without exception.

Fees will be calculated based on square footage of buildings, pavement

These fees will be calculated based on the square footage of impervious surfaces on a property. The rationale is that roofs, driveways and parking lots create more potential for drainage problems and water contamination.  Local jurisdictions are supposed to determine how much to charge per square foot, but in general, the size of the fee would depend on the size of the buildings and paved surfaces on a property.

Environmentalists say that the policy is necessary to raise money for the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay and to support the state’s efforts to meet federal environmental standards before 2017, the national deadline for compliance with the Clean Water Act.

However, critics of the fees say that they impose an undue financial burden on Marylanders at a time when the state is still struggling to recover from the recession.  They argue that it is unreasonable to expect cash-strapped citizens to pay these fees when they also have to pay more gas taxes, payroll taxes, and income taxes.

‘Rain tax’ debated in Senate

Calling it a “rain tax,” Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil, told his fellow senators said that it was ironic that the environmental groups who championed the fees did not want to pay them.

Pipkin said that “the irony of ironies” was that these groups were not willing to pay for better water quality even though they were the ones pushing the state towards that goal.  He said that the groups’ stance was particularly galling, since much of the money raised through stormwater fees would benefit them by subsidizing conservation projects.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, defended the fees, arguing that citizens had a year of advance notice and that this was plenty of time to prepare to pay the money necessary to meet federal mandates.  He said that the state had an obligation to protect its waterways and that it was not unreasonable to ask citizens to pay the costs of environmental clean-up.

Kasemeyer argued it was hard to justify adding another expense to Marylanders’ budgets immediately  after enacting a gas tax hike.  At a certain point, he said, the impact on people outweighs the impact on the environment, and it is unreasonable to expect people to sacrifice so much for the sake of conservation.

Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore Co., said that she objected to the fees in spite of  her conviction that it is vital to protect the Chesapeake Bay, because she feared causing economic hardship.

“We need to save the planet,” she said, “but people can only do so much at one time.”

Fees will help with Chesapeake Bay cleanup

Montgomery County Democrat Sen. Richard Madaleno said that the state could not avoid paying the expense of water cleanup, since the Environmental Protection Agency has set a firm deadline for completion of the project in 2017  and will not budge.  He argued that it was silly for legislators to delay the imposition of the fees required to meet that goal since citizens would ultimately have to pay the same amount of money regardless.

“When I look at this amendment, I’m reminded of the saying, ‘You can pay me now, or you can pay me later,’” Madaleno said.

About The Author

Meg Tully


Contributing Editor Meg Tully has been covering Maryland politics for more than five years. She has worked for The Frederick News-Post, where she reported during the General Assembly session in Annapolis. She has also worked for The (Hanover) Evening Sun and interned at Baltimore Magazine. Meg has won awards from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association for her state and county writing, and a Keystone Press Award for feature writing from the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. She is a graduate of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. If you have additional questions or comments contact Meg at: megctully@gmail.com


  1. Eric Sentner

    I wonder if we could challenge this law on the ex post facto grounds.. They’re going to tax us based on structures that we already have on our properties. If the tax pre-existed the structures, people would be aware and able to adjust their plans.

  2. EPA must be restricted

    It is silly for the lawmakers to consider this. The EPA can drop dead. The Bay belongs to Maryland and Virginia not the stupid EPA. What happens after 2017 does the EPA come and do its own job. It would be great if the EPA did its own job instead of nabbing and complaining.

  3. JoyM1

    Maryland government is a JOKE!
    If our esteemed (term used loosely) legislators truly cared about the bay they would tell the counties to stop approving all of the PUDs. These “Planned Urban Developments” destroy forests and natural wetlands, and displace wildlife by destroying their natural habitat. PUDs add impervious surfaces yet they are approved by Baltimore County with few questions asked!
    Oops, what was I thinking…by adding impervious surfaces they add to the fees they can collect and add to the tax base! What a joke!

  4. Ronnie Adams

    What part of Owe Malley don’t you understand?

  5. NoSacredCow

    So churches that already are avoiding property taxes will now be avoiding this fee too? Even with their large roofs and paved parking lots?
    Isn’t it about time they start pulling their own weight too?

    • Dan Calvin

      The power to tax is the power to destroy. Beside don’t liberals scream about the separation of church and state, well the tax free status of church is part of the separation.

      • NoSacredCow

        Churches scream about separation of church and state only when it comes to their tax exemption, otherwise they think it’s perfectly within their right to get government money for hurricane relief, school vouchers, exemptions for healthcare…
        Churches are given a special class not available to any other non-prophet.

  6. Snowman8wa

    The Maryland Reporter should think about changing their mantra “The News Site for Government and Politics IN A NANNY STATE!

    Maryland voters if you allow this to stand you deserve what you get. How much rain runoff comes from GOVERNMENT’S STREETS and buildings? Maybe, to avoid the tax, you had better go back to pre-cvil war condtions when the roads were dirt and cobblestone, and the transportation ate hay and alfalfa; then the rainwater will have free access to absorb back into Maryland soil properly.

    “…All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the LORD weigheth the spirits….Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues without right….(PROVERBS 16:2, 8)

    Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus et Fidelis

  7. Marcia Ricker

    Just what is the exact plan to clean up the polluted watershed ? Plant trees ? Okay. It will take 15 to 20 years for trees to grow big enough to be beneficial. Good idea. Do it . In the mean time, how long do you plan on keeping this tax going, and how many trees and plants will you incorporate, and where will you be putting them to benefit the area in question ? This pollution was not a before thought obviously. And every time a tree or bush was removed to accommodate an Official Building Project, who was in charge of the destruction then ? The people involved in this are the very ones removing the money from the pockets of hard working individuals. Government Officials.

  8. mdoc

    What good does it do for us Marylanders to continuously fight to clean the bay when neighboring states aren’t so strict? Does DE or PA charge their citizens like MD charges us? Do they fight pollution and saturation of building too…oh wait…MD doesn’t fight building and wiping out acres and acres of trees, it brings them revenue.

  9. Dale McNamee

    And O’Malley wants to increase road building ( impervious surfaces )…
    It’s also a great way to de-populate the state by making it unaffordable to live here…( save the insensate environment )… How many jobs will be lost or never created ? What about the cost of living ?
    And, how did the Bay exist for thousands of years without the help of the Maryland government ?

Support Our Work!

We depend on your support. A generous gift in any amount helps us continue to bring you this service.