By Megan Hartley
Capital News Service
Friday, Feb. 16, 2007
ANNAPOLIS - Saving the greatest estuary in the Western
Hemisphere, as Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, calls the
Chesapeake Bay, requires lots of money. And some lawmakers made it
clear Thursday they're not afraid to vote for new taxes to pay for
Busch joined several legislators from both houses, the Chesapeake Bay
Foundation and other environmental groups in proposing the creation of a
new tax to finance what they called the Chesapeake Bay Green Fund in
hopes of generating $130 million for projects to clean the bay.
The proposal would tax so-called "impervious surfaces" such as
driveways, sidewalks and roofs that seal the ground and make it
impossible for rainwater to be absorbed by the soil and naturally
filtered before it enters back into the water cycle. The levy would be
paid by the buyers of new homes in all areas of the state, though homes
built in areas outside state designated growth areas would come with a
far higher tax.
"The bay is ranked as a D-plus as far as water quality. Impervious
surfaces put more pollution into the tributaries," said Busch.
The tax would encourage people to build homes in what are called
priority funding areas where the state encourages growth.
Water-resistant surfaces would be taxed at a rate of 25 cents per
square foot within the state-designated growth areas, and $2 per square
foot outside the areas.
Kim Coble, executive director of the Chesapeake
Bay Foundation, said that the tax would add $757 to the cost of an
average-sized house built on a 1/4-acre lot inside a growth area. That
same home built outside a designated growth area would cost an
additional $6,000, according to Coble.
When asked whether $6,000 would make a difference for people building
homes costing upwards of $500,000, Coble responded that she thought it
would be nice to raise the tax, but builders had said it was already a
"startling incentive" to build inside growth areas.
"It is smart growth with a high IQ, it has some teeth in it," said
Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, chair of the House Environmental
McIntosh told the story of former Sen. Bernie Fowler who asked fellow
legislators to do the "sneaker test," - wading knee-high into the bay
and looking to see if their sneakers were visible - back in 1988.
The gimmick spurred the Maryland General Assembly to pour money into
water treatment plants, and 11 years later lawmakers rejoiced when they
saw their shoes through the clear water, McIntosh said.
But this is no longer the case, according to McIntosh. Though Fowler
has continued his summer wade-in every year, he can no longer see his
"The water is cloudy again," McIntosh said. She said all the money
put into the cleaning up the environment "is worth nothing" unless
development is contained.
The $130 million from the tax would be dispersed among the Department
of Agriculture - set to get the largest chunk at 35 percent - and other
organizations such as the Department of Planning and the Chesapeake Bay
Earl "Buddy" Hance, president of the Maryland Farm Bureau, said the
fund was particularly important to farmers.
"Agriculture is the best use of the land in Maryland. We (farmers)
live and work on it every day," said Hance.
Coble said the Department of Agriculture could use the funds for
programs such as incentives to build manure storage sheds - which keep
nitrogen from flowing into the bay.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation says the funding would help achieve 75
percent to 85 percent of Maryland's pollution reduction commitments by
2010. In 2000 the Maryland General Assembly signed the Chesapeake 2000
Agreement, which aimed to reduce about 20 million pounds of nitrogen per
year by 2010.
McIntosh says the bill will help the bay no matter what the outcome.
If residents and builders are undeterred by the tax and continue to
build outside the designated areas, the state will in turn get more
money for environmental programs through higher taxes.
"I think it (tax)
could slow growth a bit. But if it doesn't, then it provides money to
mitigate the damages growth causes," said McIntosh.