Approved ‘Green Fund’ Bill Excludes Coastal Watershed

BERLIN – A not-so-little side note to the completion of the General Assembly session this week was the approval of a plan to spend $50 million per year to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, but conspicuously absent from the legislation was any provision for state funding for the coastal bays in and around the resort area.

The General Assembly last week voted to set aside $50 million per year of the revenue generated from several tax increases approved during the special session for clean-up efforts for the Chesapeake Bay. The so-called Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund will be funded in large part by a portion of the gasoline tax, car rental taxes and the newly increased vehicle titling tax.

Its predecessor, the so-called Green Fund, which made it through the House during the regular session last year but failed in the Senate as the session expired, was amended late in the game to include the “Atlantic Coastal Bays” to the bill’s title. The Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund approved by state lawmakers last week does not include any provisions for funding for the coastal bays and focuses strictly on the state’s largest estuary.

However, comparing the two pieces of legislation is a little like apples and oranges because the funding sources are entirely different. Last year’s Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Coastal Bays Green Fund bill would have created a rather onerous fee on new construction based on the amount of impervious surface created. At first, the bill provided for spending the revenue strictly on clean-up efforts in the Chesapeake, but the local delegation was able to get the coastal bays added as a recipient for the funding.

From the beginning, the bill came under a lot of pressure from a variety of sources including the County Commissioners, who opposed the legislation because they believed it unfairly assessed fees on new construction in all areas of the state without returning any of the revenue to the jurisdiction from whence it came. The bill was amended to include a provision that would return 30 percent of the revenue generated by the fees to the local jurisdictions for waterway improvement projects, but it ultimately died at the end of the session.

This year, there is no mention of the coastal bays in the so-called Green Fund bill approved last week. Delegate Jim Mathias (D-38B) said he did not force the issue, given the other weighty issues lawmakers had in front of them, but he also didn’t vote for it.

“It’s not that I oppose creating a funding source for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, I just didn’t think it was the time or place for it given the other things we had on our plate,” he said. “We were called there to tackle a fiscal crisis and our agenda was fiscally driven.”

Mathias pointed out the Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund is a completely different piece of legislation than the Green Fund bill amended to include the coastal bays under consideration. He added a similar bill focusing on the coastal bays could be forthcoming in the General Assembly’s regular session early next year.

“It’s a completely different bill,” he said. “For one thing, the identified funding source is different. Funding comes from a portion of the gasoline tax and the rental car tax. It doesn’t have anything to do with fees on new construction.”

Mathias pointed out it is not possible to consider the state’s largest estuary and the coastal bays as mutually exclusive of each other.

“I would think that any reasonable person in the management of estuaries will realize the symbiotic relationship between the Chesapeake and the coastal bays,” he said.