Why is a stormwater management bill being called a ‘rain tax’?

A bill aimed at managing New Jersey’s stormwater runoff and the pollution that comes with it is being dubbed a “rain tax” by some.

“This is a new tax, no matter how you cut it, and the folks of New Jersey who just cannot afford it anymore,” said Assemblyman Hal Wirths.

But supporters of the Clean Water and Flood Reduction Act, as it’s officially known, say the bill’s nickname is misleading.

“You know, it’s unfortunate that people are mischaracterizing this as a rain tax, as a higher tax. In fact, it’s not a tax at all,” said Chris Sturm, managing director of policy and water at New Jersey Future.

Sturm says the bill would allow counties and municipalities to create stormwater management utilities. The utilities would be dedicated to reducing flood risk and filtering polluted runoff that goes directly into the states’ waterways. Under the proposed law, which has cleared the Legislature, fees would be imposed on owners of properties with large amounts of impervious surfaces.

“Things like roofs and parking lots and driveways and so forth,” Sturm said.

Sturm says the fee for each municipality would vary depending on how big of a problem flooding is in the area.

“First of all, you won’t see communities taking this up because they’re not facing severe flooding problems. But in communities with really big flooding problems, the cost of inaction is much greater. Businesses shut down, people can’t get to work, property is damaged,” said Sturm.

But Wirths says it doesn’t matter if it’s called a tax or a fee — it’s still going to mean money out of taxpayer pockets.

“So we’re going to create another bureaucracy that can get completely out of control. We don’t know what limits or how much they’re going to tax, and it’s just a bad bill, and it’s going to continue to hurt the business environment in New Jersey,” Wirths said.

“Towns have a sewer utility, or they have a water utility or they have an improvement authority. No new bureaucracy, no new salaries, no new anything. It’s just, you now have a mechanism to fund these capital improvements, which you didn’t have before,” said Sen. Bob Smith, the bill’s sponsor.

Smith says if the state’s storm water runoff isn’t managed, it could impact tourism.

“Barnegat Bay and the Jersey Shore, which is the source of $3 billion of tourism every year has issues. There’s more than 2,000 failing storm water basins in and around the Barnegat Bay,” Smith said.

The EPA estimates it could take 20 years and $16 billion to upgrade the state’s stormwater infrastructure to get it where it has to be. If the governor signs the bill, New Jersey would join 40 other states that have stormwater utilities.

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