Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Whither the Rain Tax

The Baltimore Sun recently published an op/ed on the current state of the "rain tax" in relation to Governor Hogan's promise to repeal it.  For all intents and purposes, there is nothing to repeal:
Now, having created this boogeyman of the "rain tax," Mr. Hogan is proposing to slay it through legislation that does absolutely nothing to change the status quo. The governor is not trying to forbid counties from implementing fees to meet the EPA requirements. He just wants to stop requiring them to do so — which has actually been the case all along. True, former Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler at one point threatened to levy $10,000-a-day fines against Carroll County for its refusal to enact a stormwater fee, but the O'Malley administration's Department of the Environment determined that the county's plan to dedicate property tax and other revenues to the cause instead was proper. Unless Mr. Hogan intended to reverse that ruling, the counties are perfectly safe to reduce or eliminate their fees no matter what happens to the governor's legislation.
 As noted in the piece, local jurisdictions privately lobbied for state action so that they would not have to request piecemeal revenue by way of local tax increases through their delegations.

Or they could do what Carroll County did - decrease spending on schools, public safety, and other county amenities to fund storm-water mitigation projects mandated under federal law.

It gets back to the basic premise of government budgets - more taxes, more services; less taxes, less services.  We just went through an election cycle hearing that taxes could be cut on the back of "waste, fraud, and abuse", but if you believed that I have some swampland in Florida to sell you. There is surely waste, fraud, and abuse in government, just as there is in the office next to yours or the most finely tuned corporate juggernaut.  But 1) digging it out ends up costing as much as it saves, and 2) it is a juvenile way to talk about "spending within our means".

Now here sits Governor Hogan, working with friends and cabinet members who know this "rain tax" gambit was more campaign ploy that policy, who must now either toss up a meaningless piece of legislation to "check the box" on his campaign lit, or back down and say "this is in the hands of the counties".  Because guess what - there is a very good chance that four years from now, regardless of what the Governor does, "Angry in Arbutus" and "Fed Up in Frederick" will still be "taxed for the rain that falls on the roof of their homes" by way of a storm-water management fee that sends dedicated funding to mitigation projects mandated by the EPA.

Which brings us to Howard County.  The 2014-15 Budget squeezed by a shortfall.  The 2015-16 Budget squeezed by decreased revenue projections.  And Governor Hogan is further cutting our state education funds to the frustration of our County Executive.  Does this sound like the platform for cutting a dedicated revenue stream and shifting funds from other priorities to cover the mandated expense?  No, my friends, it does not.

Have a great Snow Day playing with the people you love!