We’re briefly coming out of hiatus1 because a bit of local political maneuvering came up that is just too delicious to ignore.
Allan Kittleman is going to “submit legislation” to repeal the stormwater management fee2 This is delightful, speaking from a purely loco-politico watcher perspective. A year out from the election, every Kittleman move has to be viewed as positioning to strengthen his underdog run for Howard County Executive. The stormwater management fee is an undoubtedly unpopular bit of legislation, another example of an inelegant solution to an intractable problem3. The 2012 Watershed Protection and Restoration Act has the problem of being inadequately explained to voters and poorly and unevenly rolled out. (Sounds familiar?) It’s tough to support something you can’t understand.
All of which to say is this is a clever, if cynical, move by Senator Kittleman. His repeal efforts are almost certainly doomed to failure, with a governor and legislature unwilling to refight battles already fought, but his repeal bill will allow him to stand up and say, “I fought the rain tax! Those fat cats down in Annapolis stood in my way!” Anti-tax crowds cheer.
This leaves his opponent, Councilperson Courtney Watson, caught between a rock and a stormwater management pond. As part of the County Council, she was legally obligated to figure out how to enact this legislation. I suppose she could have obstinately refused to figure it out, but leaving a problem without a solution isn’t her style. What’s more, she, and the County Council, doesn’t really have the luxury of obstinacy for obstinacy’s stake. That’s a great thing about local politics- these are real problems, with needed solutions, that affect real people, now. Even the council’s token Republican, Greg Fox, was on the ground figuring out a solution. But while she’s diligently working, her opponent can simply “be against”, without having to deal with any of the follow-on repercussions.
Kittleman’s justification: “My proposed legislation will not prevent any county or local jurisdiction from keeping or enacting a ‘rain tax,’” stated Kittleman. “Nor will it harm the efforts to clean and restore the Bay. It will allow counties the freedom to decide how best to fund stormwater remediation efforts.” This is, at best, a dodge; a problem as large as restoring the bay requires large-scale, coordinated efforts, which a state-wide fee is designed to support. This fee is part of a larger state-wide program that nests within the federal government’s efforts; saying you’re just trying to push freedom down to the counties is…disingenuous.
It appears Senator Kittleman may have taken a leaf out of Senator Cruz’s playbook: 1. Find unpopular program. 2. Oppose it, preferably without any kind of counterproposal or effort to fix the underlying problem. 3. PROFIT?????
As for Councilperson Watson, her best bet is probably to point out how the Council worked to find an equitable solution; the move from a complex GIS-guided solution to a flat fee was a smart one. She can continue education efforts. A year from now, she will hopefully be able to point to things the fee funded that have a direct impact on both the quality of the bay and the health and well-being of Ellicott City. Any maybe, just maybe, Senator Kittleman’s timing is a bit too cute: this announcement coincides too nicely with the recent repeal-and-don’t-replace federal government shutdown, an effort that did not end well for Republicans. He would have been better off announcing this in a few months, when the link not so easily drawn. It’s doubtful that Councilperson Watson would go negative (more risk than reward as the frontrunner), but this is a juicy opportunity to tie Senator Kittleman to the more extreme elements of his party.
- I’m not much on extended apologia, but my absence is worth a footnote. I do feel bad that this blog is, for all intents and purposes, a dead link. New job, two kids in that sweet age spot of “constantly demanding”, and a hobby that is remarkably like a job suck up (nearly) every iota of free time, or at least the free time I’d be willing to donate to writing. I have big plans for a big post “pulling back the curtain” on a local political campaign, though, so look forward to that. Maybe after fundraising numbers are released in January. ↩
- Aka “rain tax”, for those who prefer their headlines to be more partisan than not. ↩
- Aka “government”. Copyright me. ↩