A Rush for the Tax to Flush?
Our ears are tuned to tax hypocrisy. The tax-cut apostles preach their doctrine while costs, fees and tuitions soar. Taxes by any other name like surcharge or user fees still come out of our pockets.
Ex-Del. Dick DAmato enriched our tax thesarus in a letter to Bay Weekly last week: levies; mandatory contributions; revenue enhancements; major gottchas; minor gottchas and plain and chocolate-sprinkled gottchas.
But even the green DAmato might applaud the newest no-tax-but-cost-us-anyway plan: Gov. Robert Ehrlichs proposed sewage fee to rescue Chesapeake Bay.
We are heartened by Ehrlichs boldness in tackling the Bays most fixable scourge. The governors proposal would impose a $2.50 monthly surcharge to water bills that would finance upgrades at more than 60 sewage treatment plants across the state.
It deserves our careful consideration, as the politicians say, and most likely our support.
Flash back for a moment to last summer when dead zones of water devoid of aquatic life rolled through Chesapeake Bay. The oxygen failed because of the nitrogen-laden effluents from sewage treatment plants (as well as Eastern Shore chicken manure, farm fertilizers and green-lawn chemicals).
With his sewer surcharge, Ehrlich is creating a public solution to a problem that can be fixed by modern technology. Its a problem-solving plan, which is what we should demand of our leaders. Truth be told, theres no other place to find the $1 billion needed to plug up the pollution. It wont be coming from Congress, thats for sure. As a congressman, Ehrlich couldnt pry that kind of money loose for sewage treatment, and similar efforts by Sen. Barbara Mikulski and others since have failed.
Its smart politically for Ehrlich for reasons beyond being bold. The anti-tax crowd will yelp, but theyre not likely to support his Democratic challenger next time around anyway.
Meanwhile, Ehrlich demonstrates the moderation he promised as a candidate and, perhaps, blunts his vocal environmental critics. His plan also takes the pressure off of the poultry industry and farmers, thereby enabling the governor to keep campaign commitments. So we would expect to see the Eastern Shore and farmers with pom-poms cheering the governors plan.
Well be watching for the details as to how the fee is collected and administered. Will the pot of money be clearly protected so as not to be raided for, say, transportation or education? Will the legislation be written to clearly forbid diversions?
Beyond fixing sewage treatment plants, can we use this fund to tackle septic system problems like those that plague the Bay in every old waterfront community? The proceeds also should provide grants, or at least no-interest loans, to homeowners with septics willing to lay out the thousands of dollars to do their part to stanch the flow of killer nutrients.
We like this user fee so much that we wont even call it a tax. Better yet, we invite readers to support Marylands Great American Flush Tax to cure what ails the Bay.