Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ellicott City Flooding - The Reason for the "Rain Tax"

Throughout the latter end of his campaign for County Executive, Allan Kittleman promised to take action on Ellicott City flooding.  He said the words many residents and concerned citizens were desperate to hear, which is that we've done enough studies and its time to build.  Once elected, County Executive Kittleman carried this promise through to his State of the County address, stating:
 "I think we've done enough studies and planning," he said. "It is time to start the work."
And he followed through on that commitment in his FY16 Capital Budget, allocating $3.4 million in the Capital Budget for Flood Mitigation and Stormwater/Waterway Enhancement in addition to the $2.7 million allocation from earlier budgets.

In a tight budget year, this is an important commitment and one that can't come soon enough.  But let's look at where the money is sourced:

Click to enlarge
Of the money allocated, $1.4 million comes from the Stormwater Management Utility Fee, i.e., the "Rain Tax", i.e., the "I can't wait to repeal the 'Rain Tax'", i.e., "you're being taxed for the rain that falls on your roof, folks" tax.

As you may have heard, one of the "principal successes" of Governor Hogan's first legislative session was the repeal of the "Rain Tax"; a repeal barely worth the paper it is written on:
While the General Assembly agreed to lift the demand that Baltimore and the nine largest counties charge the fees, state law still requires them to come up with the money for projects to safeguard and improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
The Rain Tax is Dead.  Long live the Rain Tax.  As repeatedly stated over the past year, counties have always been free to set whatever utility fee they wish for stormwater mitigation so long as the necessary projects are put in place.  Now they are free from the legal farce of imposing $1 stormwater fees instead of nothing. Similar to a car with an emissions problem, no one is saying you need to buy a new car, but if you're going to drive you need to make sure your vehicle meets the necessary standards for being on the road.

But as shown above, the Stormwater Utility Fee has its uses.  Important uses.  Life-changing and life-saving uses.  When asked whether he would repeal the Rain Tax now that he was free from state mandate, County Executive Kittleman responded that he didn't like the fact that Howard County had a stormwater remediation fee, but:
"We have to be practical and pragmatic."
Notably, "practical and pragmatic" were not conditional phrases used when "repeal" was the word of the hour.

Mitigating the threat of devastating floods in Ellicott City will require a long-term commitment and County Executive Kittleman has shown his understanding of that issue with this Budget.  But he did so with an assist from the Rain Tax.  It's a good thing no one got around to repealing it first.

That's all for today.  Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!