O’Malley backs higher tax for sewage facilities

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ANNAPOLIS Gov. Martin O'Malley said Thursday that he favors raising the state’s so-called “flush tax” on homeowners and that the proposal is one of several tax increases that could be needed to balance the state’s budget.

Mr. O'Malley said he would support raising the $30-a-year fee to help pay for improvements to sewage-treatment plants and that other revenue increases - including raising the state gas tax - will be on the table when the General Assembly convenes in January.

“We have to find a way to make modern investments,” Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, said during a meeting with reporters. “The legislature certainly feels the pain that people are still feeling from this recession, but they also appreciate that a better tomorrow requires investment.”

The flush tax was approved in 2004 at the urging of then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, who saw it as a way to generate millions for renovations to sewage facilities and reduce waste pollution through the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund.

Growing population and rising costs for infrastructure improvement have increasingly drained the fund, leading many officials to suggest raising the tax.

The Bay Restoration Fund Advisory Committee recommended this year that the state double the flush tax to $60 in 2013 and triple it to $90 in 2015.

The governor declined to say specifically whether he would support the proposed increases but said increases likely are needed to keep up with the state’s growing needs.

He also said he would like to see the tax applied more aggressively to larger homes and wealthier consumers rather than the current flat fee charged on all homes using public sewage or septic systems.

“Whatever we do, we need to do it in a more progressive way that recognizes consumption and gives some relief to people who use less,” Mr. O'Malley said.

The governor acknowledged that tax increases likely will be part of a “balanced approach” to budgeting during the upcoming General Assembly session, when he and legislators will look to balance the state’s spending plan with cuts and revenue increases.

He said officials still plan to consider raising the state’s 23-cents-a-gallon gas tax, despite some public outcry.

Delegate Neil C. Parrott, Washington Republican, said rural constituents have complained for years that the flush tax unfairly applies to homes that don’t even contribute waste to treatment plants but instead use septic systems.

He also thinks a flush-tax increase is unnecessary and that officials can better solve the Bay Restoration Fund’s problems by ensuring its designated funds aren’t borrowed for other purposes.

“I think we’re paying too much to the governor already,” Mr. Parrott said. “Maryland has a spending problem that’s out of control. We don’t have a revenue problem.”

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