• Delegate Mike McDermott: Empty Cupboard and a Demanding King

    • Empty Cupboards and a Demanding King
    • Taxes, Tolls, and Fees
    • By Delegate Mike McDermott

    Oct. 31st, 2011

    As the month of October fades from view, clarity now comes to Marylanders as to the actions taken by the democratic majority in the General Assembly. Those actions culminate in tax, toll, and fee increases at a time when our state’s economic engine is broken and we find ourselves coming in at number 50 in jobs created, and number 1 in jobs lost.

    We hear the chant of, “jobs, jobs, jobs”, but the echo can be heard in empty buildings from Garrett to Worcester. Every extra dollar taken by the state government is just another dollar missing from our local economy, and, with a General Fund Budget that spends 12% more than the previous year, and a Capital Budget almost 200 million more than what was recommended by the non-partisan bean counters, increases are unavoidable. The House Republican Caucus offered an alternative budget that limited increases in spending to 3% (the same level of projected revenue increases), but it was rejected.

    So, here is a list of what is proposed by the administration and what has been enacted and signed into law in 2011, as unpleasant as it is:

    Governor’s Commission on Sustainable Growth (proposal)
    Increase in Bay Restoration Fee (Flush Tax)

    • In total 200% increase from $30 per year to $90 per year by FY ’15 (July 2014)
    • In FY ’13 (July 2012) a 100% increase from $30 per year to $60 per year.
    • In FY 15 a 50% increase from $60 per year to $90 per year
    • Indexing to inflation beginning in FY 16 with a cap of 3% per year

    Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding (proposal)

    • 64% increase in the gas tax over three years (from 23.5¢ to 38.5¢)
    • 100% increase in emission inspection fees (from $14 to $28)
    • 50% increase in vehicle registration fees (from $50.50 to $75.75)
    • 8% increase in vehicle titling tax (from 6% to 6.5%) or elimination of trade-in allowance

    Toll Increases (Approved by the Transportation Authority 9/22/11)
    Key Bridge/Fort McHenry Tunnel/ Harbor Tunnel

    • 50% increase from $2 both ways to $3 both ways effective November 1
    • 33% increase from $3 both ways to $4 both ways effective July 1, 2013
    • Total increase 100% from 2011 to 2013.

    JFK Memorial Highway Section of I-95/Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge

    • 20% increase from $5 to $6 effective November 1
    • 33% increase from $6 to $8 effective July 1, 2013
    • Total increase 60% from 2011 to 2013

    Bay Bridge/US 301 Bridge

    • 60% increase from $2.50 to $4 effective November 1
    • 50% increase from $4 to $6 effective July 1, 2013
    • Total increase 140% from 2011 to 2013

    Tax and Fee Increases – 2011 Regular Session
    Budget/BRFA
    Taxes and Fees Increases in the FY 2012 Budget/BRFA

    • Vehicle Titling Tax doubled $50 to $100
    • Vanity Plate Fee doubled from $25 to $50
    • Land Recording Fees – doubled $20 to $40
    • Birth Certificate Fees – doubled from $12 to $24
    • Increase in Hospital Assessments adding 2.5% to rates
    • Increasing Nursing Home Tax from 4% to 5.5%
    • Parole Supervision Fee – doubled from $25 to $50

    New Taxes and Fees in the FY 2012 Budget/BRFA

    • 2% Premium Tax on the Injured Worker Insurance Fund (IWIF)
    • Payroll Garnishment Fee for State Employees
    • Maryland Higher Education Commission Program Approval Fee

    Other Bills With Tax and Fee Increases from 2011 Session

    • HB 1196 – Increases the maximum fee imposed by Maryland Historical Trust from 1% to 3%.
    • HB 362 – Increases Licensing Fees for the Home Improvement Commission by $25 for each type of license and a new $20 fee for all initial applications.
    • HB 1213/SB-994 – Increases sales tax on alcohol 50% from 6% to 9%
    • HB 195 – Increases the licensure fee for a secondhand precious metal object dealer or pawnbroker from $75 to $300
    • HB 1022 – Establishes a registration and renewal fee of $1,000 for Debt Settlement Services
    • HB 881 – Establishes an application fee of $100 and a $100 per vehicle registration fee for transporting waste kitchen grease.
    • HB 523 – Requires the State Court Administrator to assess a $100 fee for the special admission of an out-of-state attorney.

    Viewing these increases with a backdrop of the 2007 increases is worth noting. How many times will we be told about how increases will be placed in “lock boxes” and how taxes and tolls will support specific projects only to see them channeled into the ever increasing General Fund. Speaking of those not to distant increases, less we forget:

    Remembering When… The 2007 Special Session
    The Largest Tax Increase In Maryland’s History (so far anyway)

    • 20% Increase in the Sales and Use Tax (From 5% to 6%)
    • Also included an expansion to Computer Service which was repealed in the ’08 regular session and replaced with the “Millionaire’s Tax”, a 6.25% tax rate on incomes over $1 million. The “Millionaire’s Tax” sunsetted on December 31, 2010.
    • 18 % Increase in the Corporate Income Tax (From 7% to 8.25%)
    • 20% Increase in Vehicle Excise Tax
    • 117% Increase In Vehicle Titling Fee
    • 100% Increase in Cigarette Tax
    • 5% Income Tax Increase on Incomes over $150,000 (4.75% to 5%)
    • 11% Income Tax Increase on Incomes over $300,000 (4.75% to 5.25%)
    • 16% Income Tax Increase on Incomes over $500,000 (4.75% to 5.5%)

    (*Many thanks to the House Republican Caucus for compiling the facts and figures)

    We all understand the need for government to collect taxes, but how can we accept outrageous government growth in spending when our wallets are bare? Maryland is suffering under a progressive weight from which she longs to be free. Her people are suffering, her businesses fleeing, and those in power refuse to yield or learn.

    Maryland, my Maryland…hang in there. Your people are wiping the slumber from their eyes.

  • Baltimore Sun: Chesapeake Bay cleanup fee increase proposed

    A state task force called Tuesday for tripling the “flush fee” Maryland homeowners pay as a way to help finance an accelerated cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay.

    The 28-member task force, appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley to tackle sewage and growth issues, voted overwhelmingly to recommend that the $2.50 monthly bay restoration fee be doubled next year and increased to $7.50 a month by 2015. The fee is levied on water and sewer bills for utility customers, and on property tax bills for homeowners on septic systems.

    For full story click here: http://www.baltimoresun.com/features/green/bs-gr-flush-fee-20111108,0,626616.story

  • PlanMaryland: At the Crossroads-Forum Takeaways by Richard Rothschild, Carroll County Commissioner

    PlanMaryland: At the Crossroads – Forum Takeaways

     

    Christopher Monckton – Climate Change Abatement Costs

    • Needed – proper cost/benefit analysis
    • Cost of curbing CO2 emissions in Maryland hundreds to thousands of times greater than focused adaptation. Mitigation results would be so small as to be immeasurable
    • Focused adaptation if/when necessary. Let technology and markets do their job
    • Sea level rise – Not happening. Latest data suggests 2 in./century at most
    • Worsening coastal storms – Not happening
    • Modest warming beneficial to agriculture, wildlife
    • Chinese CO2 increases more every month than if Maryland reduced emissions to zero

     

    Wendell Cox – Economic Premises

    • Premise: Cars remove wealth from society. False. Cars allow for more flexible mobility, providing for greater economic growth and wealth creation
    • Premise: Transit is preferable to highways. False. Nearly all mobility is by highway. No metropolitan region in affluent nations has successfully shifted to transit
    • Premise: Transit is required for low income mobility. False. Only 7.9% of jobs in metro Baltimore are accessible by transit. Most people in all income groups use autos
    • Premise: Compact development assures affordable housing for all income levels. False. Compact development raises housing prices. Low income groups are disadvantaged
    • Premise: Compact development supports better health. False. Compact development increases air pollution and worsens health effects
    • Premise: Compact development reduces greenhouse gas emissions. False. Compact development ineffective. GHG can be reduced w/o lifestyle changes through technological improvements
    • Premise: Smart Growth increases tax revenues, reduces cost to government. False. Smart Growth reduces tax revenues and increases cost to government (Commissioner Rothschild)

     

    Patrick Moffitt – Environmental Concerns and Highlands Act Impact on New Jersey

    • PlanMaryland: Risk to landowner equity not addressed
    • Agricultural issues not properly framed; erroneous data
    • Water supply and water quality issues inaccurately characterized
    • Other natural resource issues inaccurately characterized
    • Environmental risks not properly addressed or identified
    • Devil in the details – failure to ask right questions leads to incorrect premises

     

    George Frigon – Septic vs Waste Water Treatment Plants

    • Premise: Nitrogen from septics is 10 times more than WWTP. False. Little difference between them
    • Fact: WWTPs deplete aquifers by removing groundwater and discharging it in the bay
      • Fact: Septics recharge groundwater and are therefore more sustainable
    • Fact: Septics are no more damaging to the Chesapeake Bay than WWTP
    • Fact: Septic nitrogen loading virtually identical to WWTP per household
    • Current knowledge of nitrogen processes insufficient to justify septic regulations Plan advocates

     

    Ed Braddy – Quality of Life and Property Rights

    • PlanMaryland does not reflect popular opinion
    • Autos: Exaggerates costs/ignores benefits
    • Compact Development: Exaggerates benefits/ignores costs
    • Transit: Exaggerates benefits/ignores costs
    • Suburbs: Exaggerates costs/ignores benefits
    • Vitiates private property rights
  • MACo: Testimony against HB 1107 (the septic ban bill)

    BILL NO.: House Bill 1107

    TITLE: Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2011

    POSITION: OPPOSE

     

    DATE: March 11, 2011

    COMMITTEE: Environmental Matters

    CONTACT: Leslie Knapp Jr.

    The Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) OPPOSES House Bill 1107.  The bill constitutes a major State and local government policy shift that was introduced with no prior debate or discussion.  The bill would prohibit even fairly modest subdivisions on septic systems, limit subdivision and prohibit re-subdivision of specified parcels, require the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to approve street line and lot line revisions, and require even the smallest subdivisions on septic systems to use nitrogen removal technology.

    Usurpation of Local Land Use

    On its face, HB 1107 is cast as needed environmental legislation.  But the bill extends far more than a simple environmental protection measure; it actively intrudes on local land use decision-making to an unprecedented level and would have the practical effect of freezing growth in many rural jurisdictions.  It would override comprehensive plans and local zoning ordinances and downzone areas designated for growth in many county comprehensive plans.  It would also vest approval authority of street line and lot line revisions with MDE.  MACo believes strongly that decision-making by local elected officials provides the most accountable and appropriate means for such policy decisions.

    In recent years, MACo has supported significant Smart Growth and land use legislation, including HB 1141 of 2006, which requires counties to adopt a water resource element, HB 2 of 2006, which requires counties seeking State agricultural preservation funding to adopt a priority preservation area element, HB 294/SB 273 of 2009, which revised the planning visions, and HB 297/SB 280 of 2009, which requires a county’s land use actions to be “consistent” with its comprehensive plan.  MACo has also supported environmental legislation to strengthen the critical areas, require the use of environmental site design techniques for stormwater management, and encourage the construction of high performance buildings.

    However, MACo has always actively resisted attempts to vest land use decision making at the State level.  Local government officials are the most accountable to and familiar with the unique needs and concerns of their citizens.  In contrast, State officials are further removed and do not often appreciate or understand local nuances and differences.  Often, they seek to impose a “one size fits all” approach that does not mesh with the specific needs of a particular county.  The bill assumes that the State is in a better position to dictate land use decisions.

    Current Rural Smart Growth Model Ineffective

    The bill is also premised on a belief that the current Smart Growth model, which focuses on dense, compact, mixed use, and transit oriented development works equally well in both urban and rural settings.  However, while current Smart Growth and Priority Funding Area (PFA) categorizations have worked reasonably well in the more densely urbanized counties, they have not achieved the same outcomes in rural jurisdictions.

    Unlike in urban counties, rural county growth areas and PFAs do not always overlap.  Many rural growth areas remain on septics as the density required for the development of water and sewer is too high to achieve.  Townhomes and large apartment buildings or condominiums are not economically feasible or consistent with the local character desired by existing residents.  Rural population centers tend to be spread further apart, and attempts to connect centers through roads or water and sewer linkages require the granting of a PFA exception.  Transit options in such jurisdictions are nonexistent or minimal, with short-range trolley or bus systems being the most common.  Subjecting both rural and urban counties to the same “one size fits all” model has yielded friction for years, and reinforces MACo’s belief that additional overarching policies such as those proposed in HB 1107 may cause even more imperfect fits.

    Without commensurate Smart Growth reform, and appropriate recognition of the variable needs of rural counties, HB 1107 has a grossly unequal impact among geographically and demographically different jurisdictions.  This unequal treatment is not in keeping with the precepts of a “One Maryland” philosophy.

    Local Impacts Not Fully Considered

    By adopting a restrictive “one size fits all” approach, the bill will generate significant ancillary effects that local governments will have to solve.

    Agricultural and Land Preservation – By limiting the ability of a property owner to re-subdivide, an owner of a large parcel of property may be tempted to develop the whole property on a shared facility rather than be perpetually locked into a minor subdivision.  Encouraging such a “go for broke” attitude would have the unintended consequence of increasing sprawl rather than decreasing it.  Additionally, counties with a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program, such as Caroline or Harford, would have their receiving areas, and thus their programs, rendered useless under HB 1107.

    Cost and Practicality of Shared Facilities – Shared facilities are expensive to build and maintain and require a minimum threshold of homes in a subdivision in order to be economically viable.  Additionally, many counties currently restrict the use of shared facilities and would have to modify their land use policies to accommodate them if they became the only option for development.  HB 1107 essentially selects such “package plants” as the preferred format for continued development in a wide range of the State, without a fully vetted scientific or policy debate on the propriety or effectiveness of such systems.  Many systems that are already in place are facing operational challenges.

    Decreased Revenues for Rural Counties – As the bill’s fiscal note indicates, rural counties with limited PFAs will be disproportionately affected and will reduce the level of local property taxes, transfer taxes, building excise taxes, development impact fees, recordation and subdivision plat fees, and other taxes and fees beginning in FY 2012.  Garrett County advises that various local revenues may decrease by roughly $200,000 in FY 2012 and $400,000 by FY 2016.

    Potential Increased Staffing Costs for Counties – The bill’s fiscal note also indicates local government expenditures may increase starting in FY 2012 for additional personnel to oversee the installation and maintenance of community sewerage systems, shared facilities, and septic systems with nitrogen removal systems.

    Land Valuation and Property Rights – It is also arguable that the bill would constitute a taking and result in a devaluation of a property owner’s land.  Studies have produced conflicting results and more research is needed.

    Lack of State Funding Support – A long-term failure of the State in regards to Smart Growth policy has been the lack of funding support for infrastructure within PFAs and land preservation funding outside of PFAs.  Without assistance from the State for infrastructure, including the establishment of water and sewer facilities, rural counties are further restricted from growing.

    Affordable Housing – Artificially restricting housing demand in certain areas and stimulating housing demand in other limited areas will lead to a decrease in affordable housing.  Offsetting developer mandates or other strategies may be needed to ensure an adequate supply of workforce and affordable housing, but are not envisioned in this statewide inflexible legislation.

    More Focused Septics Approach May Yield Similar Effects

    MACo recognizes that septic system nitrogen pollution, while contributing only 7% of the total nitrogen flowing into the Chesapeake Bay, will need to be addressed along with every other pollution sector in order to meet the federally-mandated Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) requirements.  However, MACo believes a more focused and logical approach could achieve the same goals as this bill.

    Distance from water, soil type, drainage field size, and vegetative uptake can all significantly affect the amount of septic system nitrogen that reaches the Bay Watershed from a particular site.  Focusing on septic systems located near waterways will result in substantial nitrogen reductions.  Alternatives should be considered and compared with the bill’s provisions.  The bill’s provisions and any suggested alternatives should be subject to a cost-benefit analysis.

    According to the Maryland Department of Planning’s current projections, total nitrogen load from septic systems will increase by 37% over the next 25 years.  However, this figure – which assumes that no policy changes occur in that period – is overstated as many of the Smart Growth laws cited at the beginning of this testimony will limit septic use as they are fully implemented and the State’s own Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) will require that any new nitrogen loading caused by septics must be offset starting in 2013.  This limitation alone will significantly curb septic growth in many areas of the State.  However, rather than a statewide inflexible approach such as HB 1107, each county’s implementation could better recognize the needs and costs of reaching the overall goals required and desired for watershed protection.

    In conclusion, MACo acknowledges the bill’s overall goals of reducing septic system pollution but strongly objects to its assault on locally accountable land use decision-making, especially when alternative approaches may yield a similar septic pollution reduction.  The bill also ignores recent land use changes that will limit future septic growth, does not acknowledge the weakness of the current Smart Growth model for rural areas, and will have significant unintended consequences on county land use management.  Accordingly, MACo requests that the Committee give HB 1107 an UNFAVORABLE report.

  • Miller says higher gas tax is coming, GOP leaders say they are opposed

    By Annie Linskey, The Baltimore Sun11:26 p.m. EDT, November 3, 2011

    CAMBRIDGE ——
    State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller predicted Thursday that the General Assembly would approve an increase in Maryland’s gas tax, putting his considerable influence behind an issue that is likely to be divisive in the coming legislative session.

    “There’s going to be a gas tax,” Miller said flatly in an address to Maryland business leaders meeting here. “Is it popular? No, [but] it is going to have to get done now.”

  • Star Democrat: Sen. Pipkin bashes MdTA on toll hikes

    EASTON State Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-36-Upper Shore, is mad Maryland drivers using most Maryland toll bridges, tunnels and highways began paying much higher fees starting Tuesday as the result of the Maryland Transportation Authority board’s decision to almost double the tolls.

    “It’s deplorable that the unelected and unaccountable MdTA is allowed to raise the tolls at will and without a vote from the General Assembly,” said Pipkin in a Tuesday press release. “And they won’t stop here. You can bet they will continue to raise the tolls over the next few years.”

    Pipkin said MdTA added insult to injury by not even allowing public comment at the final meeting when the drastic hike was approved. The MdTA board members are not elected, but are appointed by and answer to Gov. Martin O’Malley.

    Pipkin said the governor continues the assault on Maryland motorists by supporting taxes and fees aimed at drivers. The O’Malley’s Blue Ribbon Commission recently recommended a 15-cent a gallon tax increase, a 50-percent increase in vehicle registration fees, doubling the vehicle emissions test fee from $14 to $28 and increasing the titling tax.

    “The average Marylander will soon not be able to afford to drive to work”, said Pipkin in a statement.

    Pipkin plans to introduce a package of bills in January requiring the General Assembly approve any toll increase, in the same manner that that the state’s legislative body approves taxes. During this fall’s speical assembly session, Pipkin introduced bills to terminate the MdTA board entirely, but they failed to go up for a vote.

    “There needs to be checks and balances in the process, especially when you’re targeting Marylanders’ checkbooks,” Pipkin said in a statement.

    For full story click here: