By TAYA FLORES, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - The Chesapeake Bay is the heart of the state and when the heart is sick, so is the rest of the state, Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, told a House committee Wednesday in support of a bill that would generate $125 million to help restore the bay.
While support for restoration of the bay appears to be strong, McIntosh acknowledged she will have to make changes in the legislation to strike a balance between population growth and environmental concerns.
"We don't want to stop growth, but we want to make it compatible with the heart of Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay," McIntosh said.
One of the key changes would be to lower the proposed tax on "impervious surfaces" or surfaces such as roads, parking lots and driveways that prevent rain water from soaking into the ground. The water thus becomes runoff and does not benefit from natural filtration of sediment and heavy metals.
The tax is estimated to generate an estimated $62.5 million for fiscal 2008 and $125 million annually each year after. The goal of the tax is to help keep development compact and minimize urban sprawl.
The original bill has a tax of $2 per square foot of a new impervious surface for development outside of designated growth areas, which are land areas adjacent to developed areas. There is a lower tax of $0.25 per square foot for development inside designated growth areas.
McIntosh said the new tax will be lower but the amount is still undecided.
However, it was the proposed tax that prompted opposition to the measure by representatives of the state's builders and Realtors.
"If everyone is going to benefit from the bay, then everyone should chip in," said Kathleen M. Maloney, executive vice president and director of legislative affairs for the Maryland State Builders Association."It's the issue of housing affordability."
She said that the association is not opposed to cleaning up the bay, but does not believe the bill's tax structure will be effective.
"Counties want us to grow inside already designated growth areas, but these areas often have stressed infrastructures," she said. "The schools are over capacity, there's traffic congestion and no room for new users in the sewer system."
Maloney said the association would like to see a user fee such as a storm water utility fee that would be applied to every household annually instead of new buyers.
Bill Castelli, vice president of government affairs for Maryland Association of Realtors, said that his association opposes the bill because of housing affordability as well.
"The impact fee would be imposed but the state, some counties and local governments already have impact fees," he said. "This would be three levels of government taxing one development."
Environmentalists, farmers, foresters and members of Gov. Martin O'Malley's cabinet spoke in favor of the bill at a hearing in the House Environmental Matters Committee.
"It potentially provides the revenue source to meet the funding gap in our current efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay," said John Griffin, secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, non-profit organization that works to protect open spaces and promote "smart growth", said that the bay is in serious condition.
"We simply have to save the bay, this is the perfect time to solve a very serious problem," she said. Schmidt-Perkins said that number of streams and tributaries that run into the bay that have bad water quality will grow by 60 percent over the next 25 years due to the current rate of development.