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Author Topic: Taxing Nature  (Read 485 times)

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Offline ZakharraTopic starter

Taxing Nature
« on: July 08, 2013, 08:27:55 PM »
  My mate saw this on her facebook and I took a look at it and we both went 'Wtf?!'   Apparently the Maryland legislature passed a bill last year that taxes rainfall.  So serious is the legislature to raise tax revenue that they are now going to tax something that is beyond the control of anyone.

http://marylandreporter.com/2013/05/29/rain-tax-falls-all-over-the-place-stormwater-fees-uneven-from-a-penny-to-thousands/

http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2013-06-24/news/bs-ed-stormwater-politics-20130624_1_stormwater-pollution-rain-tax-stormwater-fee

http://taxfoundation.org/blog/maryland-soon-roll-out-rain-tax

 Yea gods it makes me glad I don't live  in places like Maryland.

 What are your thoughts?

Offline Kythia

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Re: Taxing Nature
« Reply #1 on: July 08, 2013, 08:59:03 PM »
I don't understand the issue?

Offline lilhobbit37

Re: Taxing Nature
« Reply #2 on: July 08, 2013, 09:02:12 PM »
From what I read of your links, it appears they are not taxing rain, they are taxing based on things you've done to your property that will reduce the natural drainage, causing damage to the bay from runoff. I don't see the harm in that though it appears they seriously need to regulate it so that one county isn't paying an arm and a leg while another county pays pennies.

Offline Trieste

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Re: Taxing Nature
« Reply #3 on: July 09, 2013, 10:42:45 PM »
It all comes down to one bottom line: We need water.

If we don't have water, we die. Period.

There is a finite supply of drinkable water on the planet, and there is a finite supply of liveable water for things we eat on the planet. Fullstop, period, the end, game over.

So putting a tax in place to try to protect a rather substantial body of water like the Chesapeake is not exactly dumb or wtf or ... whatever. Further, landowners who essentially terraform their land into pollution-sinks should be taking some responsibility for their actions - and in this case, that responsibility is fiscal. Soooo...

Protecting a finite resource we need? Check.

Taxing something over which landowners have control? Check.

Holding landowners responsible for things they do on their land that affects others? Check.

What's the problem, again?

Offline ZakharraTopic starter

Re: Taxing Nature
« Reply #4 on: July 11, 2013, 10:04:55 AM »
 The article that I first saw (my mate is the one that found it, but I couldn't find it on my own) said that the tax was on the amount of rainwater that fell on all properties. It didn't mention the Chesapeake Bay, just that it was a law put in to help relieve the state's tax burden. Especially since the larger land owners would be the ones paying more (no distinction was made between city or country) no matter how wealthy or not they are.

Offline Oniya

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Re: Taxing Nature
« Reply #5 on: July 11, 2013, 10:19:05 AM »
Since the bill is for the state of Maryland, mentioning that it was for the benefit of the Chesapeake would have been kind of redundant.  The watershed for the bay covers almost the entire state.  It also covers most of Delaware, a good third of Pennsylvania, and a huge swath of Virginia, along with bits of New Jersey, West Virginia and New York.

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Re: Taxing Nature
« Reply #6 on: July 11, 2013, 11:43:16 AM »
The article that I first saw (my mate is the one that found it, but I couldn't find it on my own) said that the tax was on the amount of rainwater that fell on all properties. It didn't mention the Chesapeake Bay, just that it was a law put in to help relieve the state's tax burden. Especially since the larger land owners would be the ones paying more (no distinction was made between city or country) no matter how wealthy or not they are.
Then you need to find better sources.

1. The tax isn't even connected to rainwater. It's connected to pavement and other impermeable surfaces.
2. It's not about the state's tax burden, it's about the cost of dealing with the damage these properties are causing.
3. Um. Larger land owners? Tend to be wealthier. Especially since farms aren't part of the equation here (since they tend not to be paved).

Offline Trieste

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Re: Taxing Nature
« Reply #7 on: July 11, 2013, 01:03:17 PM »
The article that I first saw (my mate is the one that found it, but I couldn't find it on my own) said that the tax was on the amount of rainwater that fell on all properties. It didn't mention the Chesapeake Bay, just that it was a law put in to help relieve the state's tax burden. Especially since the larger land owners would be the ones paying more (no distinction was made between city or country) no matter how wealthy or not they are.

Yeah - it's not a tax on the rain, it's a tax on what happens to drainage and how water is handled on your property. So it's not actually a tax on something that you can't control - and it's also a good way to get landowners who might not have otherwise bothered to learn about the consequences of how their land is set up to research how their actions affect the environment around them.

Incidentally, I've learned all of this from the articles you linked; I have not sought out other sources on the issue. >.> One of the articles also states that the other states in the watershed area (which Oniya named) have been required to make similar laws as well.

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Re: Taxing Nature
« Reply #8 on: July 11, 2013, 10:08:00 PM »
If the people of Maryland are in favor of this, that is fine by me.  I'm glad I don't live in Maryland, or own property there.

Offline Oniya

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Re: Taxing Nature
« Reply #9 on: July 12, 2013, 11:59:25 AM »
The thing is, from looking at the articles that Zakharra linked, there are many, very easy ways for people to reduce their tax burden in most of the counties.  Installing rain barrels.  Properly grading the land.  Planting trees.  All of these are basic, sensible land management.  You don't want your land washing into the bay.  I'm personally looking into rain-barrel irrigation myself, considering how erratic the rains are here.  If I could save some of the 'storm rain' for those days when it's bone dry...I suspect my tomato plant wouldn't look as crispy.

Offline Ebb

Re: Taxing Nature
« Reply #10 on: July 17, 2013, 11:43:26 AM »
As someone who does live in Maryland and will be paying this tax, I'm of two minds about it.

On the one hand, I think that the basic idea is good. Reducing soil run-off and protecting the Chesapeake is critical. That costs money, and it makes some sense to collect that money proportionally from those who are most contributing to the problem. So the big box store with the giant parking lot has to chip in more than the guy in the tiny townhouse. Sounds good. And you've got a chance here to educate people about the issue and teach them about things like dry wells. Bonus.

On the other hand, this is a pretty good example of a government program that goes into place and then leads to a snowball bureaucracy. It's all good intentions, all the way down. First someone has to examine satellite photos of the entire state, measuring rooftop and parking lot / driveway areas. I'm sure much of that can be done algorithmically, but I'd bet a dollar there's at least one guy out there in a cubicle working 9-5 drawing little rectangles on maps just for this. Anyway, that's a one-time thing, except for new construction.

Then there's the environmentally conscious company that collects its runoff and puts it to good use. They should get rewarded for that, so they get a credit, which means there's a process for documenting what they're doing, and verifying it. Great -- we get more companies putting in rain gardens and permeable pavement. You want to encourage that, and traditionally changes to the tax code work better as a motivator than either inspirational marketing campaigns or punitive fines. So we're good there.

Then the guy who spent a lot of time putting in a rooftop garden on his house because he's very concerned about the run-off issue says "Hey, how come there are tax breaks for big companies but not for the little guy?". You're right, little guy, that's not fair! So the law gets modified; there's a residential credit application process where any homeowner can document what they're doing, and get credit for it. There's a spreadsheet to download, and you just have to submit a bunch of photographs along with that spreadsheet to prove that you're doing it right. (Really: http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/Content/dep/downloads/water/Residential_Credit_Application_and_Credit_Calculator.xls ) There's a page in there to detail your Maintenance Checklist, where you state how many times a year you inspect your rain barrels to make sure they don't have more than two inches of standing water.

So that's fine. Of course there's an appeals process in case you submit your application and it gets turned down, because otherwise it's unfair, and you don't want to send every appeal over into the overworked court system. Also, you need to reapply every three years, in case things have changed. And for each step in this process there's someone working in the bureaucracy to develop these forms, to process them, to deal with the appeals, to answer questions on the helpline, etc.

And all of this varies county by county, because out of fairness you can't expect the poorer counties to pay as much as the wealthier counties. Plus that compromise had to be put in to pass the legislation in the first place.

Bottom line is as a typical homeowner I'm paying an extra $88.40 bucks a year (There's a website to look it up. It even has pictures. I can see my house from here!), and I guarantee I've spent more time looking into this than most people. Most people will get an extra charge on their water bill and just pay it, maybe grumbling in general about taxes. Others will look into how they can get that credit, maybe buy a couple of rain barrels or something, and eventually conclude it's not really worth it. (Buying two $50 rain barrels and hooking them up to my drain spouts will save me... drumroll.... 60 cents a year off of my tax bill, as it turns out.) It's probably still a good idea to get them, but the tax system here isn't really providing an incentive to do it.

I can only imagine what percentage of the money collected under this tax will actually go to projects that help protect the bay. My guess is there's a pretty high overhead rate here, which tends to be the case for these small issue-focused taxes. But they're a lot easier to get through the legislature than a more general income tax increase. And once they're in place they will almost never go away. It seems to me like you could probably collect more money with far less waste by just slapping a $20 "Save the Bay" service fee on everyone's water bill regardless of square footage or protective measures taken, but admittedly that's just a wild guess.

Anyway, that's how sausage gets made. Mmmm. Yummy, yummy sausage.