The Capitol, Published November 14, 2007

Our Say: Broader approach on stormwater funds would be best

There's a good chance that the current special session of the General Assembly will produce legislation to funnel more money toward cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. But something crucial will likely be missing. As of this writing, the Senate has passed legislation committing $51 million extra a year - from vehicle titling taxes and Program Open Space - to the bay, but not saying specifically where that money would go.

The House is working on a bill to lay out how to spend extra bay money - according to a yearly plan from the governor, with 30 percent allotted to local government stormwater control - but not saying anything about where the money would originate. The bills seem likely to be merged.

But the most logical source of money for runoff prevention is a fee on impervious surfaces. But at this, the legislature has balked twice this year. In the last regular session it killed a fee on new impervious surfaces; in the special session it killed a proposed Green Fund fee on all development.

This doesn't provide much guidance for the County Council. It's considering legislation from the county executive that would tax newly built impervious surfaces. But at least three councilmen want to amend it to put fees on all impervious surfaces, new and old - an approach that would be fairer and could raise more money.

The County Council may feel it has to step into the gap left by the state legislature and start coming up with money now to deal with this county's huge stormwater management backlog.

If the council acts, it should remember that the problem wasn't created solely by new construction, and can't be solved by piling on fees that will make such construction even more expensive. The expense should be shared broadly.

(Revised Nov 2007)