Chicken Tax Defeated For Second Year In Row

BERLIN — For the second time in as many years, legislation introduced in the Maryland General Assembly that would apply a tax, or fee, of five cents for every chicken raised across the Eastern Shore including Worcester and Wicomico has failed to pass muster during the current session.

Last year, Senator Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery) and Delegate Shane Robinson (D-Montgomery) introduced cross-filed bills in the General Assembly under the banner of the Poultry Fair Share Act of 2014. The bill, if approved, would have forced major poultry integrators, or big companies such as Perdue and Mountaire, for example, to pay a five-cent tax for every single bird they provided to chicken farmers across the Eastern Shore and all over the state. The bill failed to make it out of committee last year, but the sponsors of the legislation were not discouraged.

This year, Madaleno in the Senate and Delegate David Moon in the House introduced nearly the same legislation seeking to tax every chicken placed with Eastern Shore growers five cents per bird with the proceeds going to Chesapeake Bay restoration projects. Again, the bills seem to be on their last legs, so to speak. Moon’s bill in the House last week got an unfavorable report from the Environmental and Transportation Committee and has been withdrawn.

The intent of the legislation is to provide a mechanism for the large poultry companies to pay their fair share of the cost to clean up nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. Large poultry companies provide hatchlings to independent contract chicken farmers, and the contract growers raise the birds until they are ready to head to market in a variety of different ways.

The proceeds of the “chicken tax” would be used to help fund the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Water Quality Cost Share Program. More specifically, the funds raised through the five-cent tax per chicken would force large poultry companies to help foot the bill for the MDA’s Cover Crop Program, a $20 million per year initiative designed to address the large amounts of chicken waste produced on the Eastern Shore where a large percentage of the contract farmers operate.

The bill sponsors asserted the so-called chicken tax would help hold the large poultry companies accountable for their contributions to the pollution of the Chesapeake and its waterways. The poultry companies responded to the proposed legislation calling it an unfair tax on an industry already doing its share to clean up the bays and waterways.