Green Fund: the color of our money becoming theirs

After trying and not succeeding in this year’s General Assembly session to create a fund dedicated to cleaning up Chesapeake Bay a different tack was announced yesterday, this time purportedly with the approval of developers.

For those who do not recall the last General Assembly session (or are now in my national readership) the Green Fund bill was an attempt to extort from developers and anyone else interested in improving their properties an “impervious surface fee” of up to $2.00 per square foot, impervious surfaces generally being buildings or pavement. Eventually the bill was amended to spare homeowners to some extent but commercial and industrial development continued to pay the full freight. While majority Democrats enabled the Green Fund bill to pass the House of Delegates by a 96-41 vote, it passed too late for the Senate to give it more than one reading.

Version 2.0 of this bill changes some of the parameters and is expected to bring $85 million to the state coffers annually if passed next year. According to the Gazette article by Sean R. Sedam:

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Under the proposal, homeowners would pay an annual fee of a penny per square foot on their homes after the first 1,000 square feet.

The penny-per-square-foot assessment would also apply to hardened surfaces on commercial, industrial and institutional properties, which could get breaks on the fee by taking pollution-reduction measures in buildings or removing pavement.

Advocates say the fee would cost average homeowners about $10 per year.


‘‘The Green Fund is something the governor supports in theory,” O’Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said late Wednesday. ‘‘It’s pretty remarkable when environmentalists and developers can come together on supporting restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. He looks forward to working with environmentalists on this piece of legislation.”

In this case, speaking for the developers was the Homebuilders Association of Maryland. As I often do when I hear about a group seemingly going against self-interest to some degree or another, I decided to follow the money. A quick search of the recent political contributions of this august group showed me they donated $4,000 to the O’Malley coffers – $2,000 each in 2005 and 2006. To some extent it’s understandable given our state’s current political makeup but this idea the Homebuilders Association has thrown their weight behind shifts the burden from a onetime payment when a piece of land is developed or redeveloped to a continual revenue stream that can easily be raised at the whim of the Democrat machine in Annapolis. Just because it would likely cost me less than the average amount (my house is barely over 1,000 square feet – not sure how a wood deck on the back and gravel driveway fits into the scheme) doesn’t mean I think it’s a good idea considering my occupation.

Further, I see this as another intrusion into the free market by our nanny state. As noted in the pull quote, part of the bill notes that businesses can get a break on the fee by removing pavement or taking pollution reduction measures. What this doesn’t tell me is whether this reduction would be a dollar-for-dollar swap – in other words, let’s say a business converts part of its parking lot from standard asphalt to Grasspave blocks. I can guaran-damn-tee you that it costs a LOT more than a penny a square foot to do that. Of course, someone in Annapolis will come up with the bright idea of a state program to pay the company for doing that but you also know that the penny per square foot will have to go up to a nickel to do that…then a dime as more items come under the funding menu. It’s the way of all government programs.

And in a state that already spends big bucks to purchase land and take it off the tax rolls, it creates more pressure on remaining landowners to feed the Annapolis beast through ever-increasing taxes and assessments such as the Green Fund would become.

To be honest, I haven’t done the reading to see if this is a “first in the nation” Green Fund law Maryland is proposing (such as our statewide “living wage” law that recently came into effect.) But Maryland tends to be among the leaders both in loony liberalism and in figuring out new and better ways to reach into our back pocket. With 29 other states fronting on the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico or Great Lakes; and environmental groups claiming like Maryland’s that its public waterways are in “crisis” mode, this idea is sure to spread to become a national and even international call.

Crossposted on monoblogue.

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