- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2007

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Afraid they will be left out of a budget that already includes billions in new taxes, Maryland environmental groups yesterday urged lawmakers to approve one more fee to pay for Chesapeake Bay cleanup.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other environmental groups have ratcheted back plans to push for what they call a “Green Fund” on development to funnel more money toward restoring the Bay. The new proposal would add 1 cent for each square foot of paved surface or roof, a plan to raise $85 million a year for cleanup.

The request comes as Maryland faces a projected budget shortfall of $1.7 billion next year. Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, has already proposed nearly $2 billion in new taxes to solve the problem, including higher sales taxes, income taxes and gas taxes. But, so far, his plans don’t include a fund for Bay restoration.

“We have a financial deficit in Maryland this year. We’ve had an environmental deficit in Maryland for years, and it’s time to address both,” said Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

The foundation’s proposal is much more modest than the one pushed last year, when the group called for a fee on new development of up to $2 a square foot for new development outside designated growth areas. That plan ran into strong opposition from developers, who said it was unfair to tax newcomers but not existing property owners. A version of the Green Fund passed the House but failed in the Senate.

The proposal announced yesterday would place a fee of 1 cent per square foot for all paved surfaces, which contribute to Bay pollution because they interrupt the natural filtering of plant life and soil.

Homeowners would be waived for the first 1,000 square feet, then charged a penny a square foot after that, so the owner of a 2,000-square-foot house would pay $10 a year to the Green Fund, collected by the counties. Last year’s proposal would have charged new homeowners up to several thousand dollars in a one-time fee, depending on the size of the house and its location. It was projected to raise $100 million a year.

Under the new proposal, property owners could get credits for reducing harmful runoff. Examples could be installing a green roof or replacing traditional pavement with a water-permeable surface. Details would be worked out later.

The changed tactic — from new development to all development — won over the Maryland Home Builders Association, a vocal critic of the Green Fund last year.

Calling the new formula “fair,” John Kortecamp, an executive vice president of the builders’ group, said the home builders now support the Green Fund proposal.

“It’s our Bay, it’s our heritage, and unarguably, it’s in trouble,” Mr. Kortecamp said.

Asked about the Green Fund proposal after an unrelated meeting at the state Capitol, Mr. O’Malley said, “I’m very open to that.

“I certainly understand the need for that, and I look forward to working with members of the House and Senate as we move forward.”

Environmental groups gathered to push the new Green Fund said the development fee was as important as the other taxes proposed to meet the budget shortfall.

“If we’re asked as taxpayers to sacrifice, we better make sure we get something for our investment,” said Cindy Schwartz, head of the Maryland chapter of the League of Conservation Voters.

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