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Committee Pulls Plug on Sewage Surcharge Bill


This Capital News Service story incorrectly stated how revenues would be spent from a $2.50 monthly fee assessed on septic system users. Those revenues would be devoted to septic system upgrades and a crop program. An identical fee on sewer bills would fund upgrades to treatment plants. The story, as originally published, appears here.

By Zenitha Prince
Capital News Service
Wednesday, March 31, 2004

ANNAPOLIS - Gov. Robert Ehrlich's sewer surcharge bill was yanked by the Senate environment committee Wednesday after the Republican Caucus vowed to oppose any legislation including a fee on septic systems.

A House version of the bill was passed, despite the inclusion of septic systems, but the legislation will likely die if Republican senators remain adamant in their stance.

"The flush tax has been flushed," said Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Chairwoman Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore County.

The bill would impose a $2.50 monthly fee on sewer bills and septic system users to fund cleanup of treatment plants, which would in turn reduce Chesapeake Bay pollution.

In a meeting last week between GOP senators and the governor, "the consensus seems to be that we would not support the bill if it included septics," said Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Caroline.

Based on that decision, the committee pulled the bill from consideration by the full Senate, Hollinger said.

The administration's failure to mobilize Republican senators breaches a promise and makes a mockery of the committee's efforts, Hollinger said.

"We worked for hours and hours on this bill," she said. "We did our work and they didn't."

The administration participated in the committee's hours-long discussions on the bill and accepted the committee's amendments, including the controversial inclusion of septic tanks, Hollinger said.

The governor's office had even praised the committee for its work on the complicated bill and had promised to garner support to ensure its passage, she continued.

"Don't come and tell us how wonderful (the bill) it and then leave us hanging," Hollinger said.

The senator said that she would introduce her own version of the bill next year.

Though the governor does not support an inclusion of septic systems, he will continue to work within a "spirit of cooperation and compromise" to see the legislation passed, said Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver.

"The administration will continue to work with all interested parties over the next week-and-a-half," she said.

But one committee member questioned the governor's sincerity in this regard.

"Either the initiative was disingenuous from the beginning and they never really wanted to clean up the bay," said Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George's, "or else the governor gave in to a couple of Republican senators who didn't want people with septics to be charged the fee."

If the governor had really wanted this bill he would have "twisted arms" as he did with his slots initiative, Pinsky said, though he has not completely lost hope.

"Stranger things have happened. We have 12 days left."

Copyright 2004 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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