Increase in rooms and meals tax weighed to fund waterway cleanup

Lawmakers are looking to pay for the clean up of the state’s waterways with partial funding from the state’s rooms and meals tax.

The Committee on Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources is wading through an omnibus water quality bill, H.586, designed to restore the state’s water bodies. According to a January 2013 report, the total cost to clean up the state’s rivers, streams, lakes and ponds was estimated at $155 million a year for 10 years.

“We’re not going after that much money,” says Rep. David Deen, D-Putney, who chairs the committee drafting the bill. “Vermont doesn’t have it.”

The committee is proposing an additional 0.25 percent increase in the state’s 9 percent rooms and meals tax (10 percent on alcohol served in restaurants) to help fund the clean up.

The bill would also raise funds from runoff caused by development, such as roads, parking lots and buildings, by creating a per parcel fee. The flat fee is set at $10 for residential property and $20 for commercial.

Together, Deen says, the bill could generate between $3 million and $5 million. The committee will also consider a fee on wholesale fertilizer and rental cars to shore up more funds.

H.586 sets new far-reaching standards for agriculture, forestry and infrastructure – the nonpoint sources of pollution that are considered to be the cause of phosphorus build up in the state’s lakes and ponds.

Deen says state agencies do not have the resources or personnel to administer the cleanup, which includes helping farmers, foresters and towns meet new runoff standards.

“They do not have the resources. They just don’t,” he said. “And it is not necessarily an ongoing expense. But we need to infuse some money into our response at this point.”

By next week, the committee hopes to have a budget to go with the bill, including the costs of administer the program and possible revenue sources. The bill could move out of committee as soon as next week, Deen said.

The Environmental Protection Agency ordered the state to create a new TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) standard to limit phosphorus pollution in Lake Champlain.

The state must meet the new TMDL or face tighter restrictions on Lake Champlain’s wastewater treatment facilities and cuts in federal funding, EPA officials have said.

John Herrick

Comments

  1. Peter Everett :

    Here we go again, digging into the tax payer’s pocket. The Legislature must truly believe that we have very deep pockets they way they keep coming after us for the “wants”. At least this time I can do something about it.
    The Mrs and I used to eat out once a week, we’ve cut back to once a month with no harm to us. We’ll just cut back to going out less, only hurting the local establishments we frequent. Us, alone, will not hurt them, but, enmass, business will suffer.
    To bad VT doesn’t have binding referendums that voters could vote on. Maybe then, I’d be more conducive to all these tax increases imposed on the vast maority by a very small minority. This state and country is heading down the wrong path. Much of what we’re seeing now led to the creation of this country. One person’s opinion.

    • Glenn Thompson :

      Increasing the rooms and meals tax along with minimum wage hike proposals would likely lead to fewer restaurants! Totally agree, the state and country are heading down the wrong path…but we continue to elect those who take us down the wrong path!

  2. Jim Barrett :

    Will the politicians ever stop taking more and more mmoney in taxes from us at every turn??? It has to stop but no one is hollering in the general public arena and until the people cry foul, it will continue until everyone is broke!

  3. Cynthia Browning :

    I think that these taxes and fees should only be imposed in the Lake Champlain basin if the funds are to be used to clean up the Lake.

    My towns do not contribute to the Lake’s problems and our own waterways are relatively clean.

    Also, the state should be using the Current Use program to educate landowners about proper forestry and agricultural practices that they are already required to employ on their lands with respect to rivers. CU costs property taxpayers about $50 million a year to subsidize the taxes of eligible landowners. In effect, that is already a sizable per parcel fee to keep land productive — why can’t we require that the land use also keeps rivers and lakes clean? Or at least use CU as an outreach opportunity?

    Rep. Cynthia Browning, Arlington

    • Robert Joseph :

      This is already a requirement of the UVA program-

      “Erosion Control and Water Quality

      It is the obligation of the landowner to ensure that soil erosion and/or stream sedimentation does
      not occur on any lands enrolled in the UVA program. Appropriate preventative soil erosion and
      stream pollution control practices, as outlined in the publication entitled “Acceptable
      Management Practices for Maintaining Water Quality on Logging Jobs in Vermont”, or a
      successor publication, shall be employed to the maximum practicable extent on all enrolled
      parcels. Compliance with all State and Federal rules and regulations regarding erosion control,
      water quality, and wetland protection is required. “

    • Peter Liston :

      The lake belongs to all of us and we all benefit from it, not just those in the Lake Champlain Basin.

      Should the sales taxes raised in Chittenden county only go to benefit Chittenden county?

  4. Wayne Andrews :

    Instead of having an across the board per parcel fee in Vermont why not take Ms. Browning’s advice and target those area around Champlain. Those owners must have reaped the rewards of their actions in the past.

  5. Shoshana Boar :

    Why do the citizens of Vermont have to pay for damages that the Developers cause (usually out of State Developers at that)?
    We did not cause parking lots for businesses to be built. the businesses wanted them and should pay for them. We did not pollute the
    waterways. Companies in VT did. Look at what Cabot cheese did to our waterways a few years ago. Did they pay for the cleanup? NO, the State did. Why? Then Vermont wonders why people are selling their homes and moving away from Vermont’s extremely high taxes.

  6. Shoshana Boar :

    Wouldn’t an increase in rooms and meals tax only serve to hurt our tourist business. Vermont depends heavily on money from tourism, and that would not be something we would want to jeopardize. Less money from tourism means higher taxes for those who live here. Either way, the homeowners lose and the polluters win.

  7. James Ehlers :

    Friends,
    How do folks think we get clean water and what do they think it should cost?

    Representative Browning,
    Does Bennington County generate enough of its own revenues to support Bennington County?

  8. The career politicians in Montpelier are directly to blame for the condition of Lake Champlain and other Lakes in the State. It is their policies that got us to this point. Now, our Leaders are blaming residential property owners for their failed policies. It’s time to change the faces in Montpelier! Our country is broke,Vermonters are broke and there is nothing coming that will change these facts. Change the faces!

  9. Chet Greenwood :

    Cynthia has a good point on the Current Use. As a requirement to CU, why don’t we require a 50 foot buffer.
    If CU is costing Vermonters $50 mil per year isn’t this a good starting point?
    This may be too easy because it doesn’t collect any additional monies!

  10. I may be over-simplifying with one small potential solution, and this may already have been suggested and/or discussed, but how about a state-wide moratorium on lawn fertilizers that contain phosphorus.

  11. Jake Marren :

    Perhaps the author of the article could explain his source for the “flat fee.”

    The draft of the Bill on the legislature’s webpage does not appear to establish a flat fee . Instead it states “The fee on developed property shall be assessed in proportion to the property’s area of impervious surface.” In fact the bill sets a cap of 50.00 for residential property. I hope this is the case and that the author is mistaken.

    Bill here: http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/2014/bills/Intro/H-586.pdf

    In my previous job, I worked for the City of Rockville, Maryland’s environmental division. We were required by our NPDES municipal stormwater permit to implement multiple strategies to support the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. To fund these activities, the city council authorized us to create a stormwater management fee, which was assessed on all real property based on the area of impervious surface on each parcel. The rational behind this fee was that because the City was required by law to build and maintain a system of pipes and stormwater treatment systems, each property owner should contribute to fund those costs based on how much runoff they generated. In essence, we tried our best to adhere to the principle of the polluter pays.

    I am generally supportive of raising funds to improve water quality. If the proposal however, simply raises money indiscriminately with no consideration of who is contributing to the problem, it should be rejected. I am fine with paying 10 bucks, I am not fine with HomeDepot and Wallmart in Williston paying only 20.

  12. Peter Washburn :

    There is a trucking company located in my little VT town that parks about 30 – 35 trucks in it’s yard every weekend and whenever it rains (or when they wash them – which is usually whenever they are in this yard and it doesn’t rain) there is a virtual stream of petroleum based water that rushes down through their driveway, across the main road, down over the bank, and then right into the Passumpsic River. They have been doing this for 25 years with no enforcement whatsoever and when I say stream, well it is more like a river itself, all nice and blue and shiny from all the diesel fuel that has been washed off the engines and the fuel tanks with the high pressure spray hoses that they use. Worse case of river pollution I have ever seen. Used to be people would talk about it over coffee at the diner but now it is just commonplace and accepted fact.

    • Peter Washburn :

      And just like at the diner…… nobody really cares…..

  13. Will Patten :

    Cleaning up the rivers and lakes is a GOOD.
    Carbon and fossil fuels are BAD.
    So tax the BAD to decrease its use and raise money to benefit the GOOD.

    • Paul Lorenzini :

      I have been to the lake many times fishing and I really cannot see what the fuss is all about. The water seems very clean and the fish are healthy. Maybe the state should just confiscate all the land and boot everyone out of Vermont so it will be the pristine utopia you desire, of course you will have to look at it through binoculars because you won’t be allowed to touch it! Well unless you are a foreign investor with your newly purchased green card.

  14. James Maroney :

    With a history of taxing the people to clean up the lake and failing to make any progress, the state has squandered its authority to raise additional taxes to pursue the same agenda with the same tools, even if the tax is aimed at tourists.

    Lake Champlain receives pollutants from three sources, Municipal (5%), Storm water (45%) and agriculture (50%). There is an important difference between the three: we are not going to stop driving, it is not going to stop raining and we are not going to stop going to the bathroom. But we do not need to farm to have food, and if we do, we certainly do not need to pollute the lake to farm.

    The state has no choice but to redesign and reconstruct the state’s storm water infrastructure and this is going to cost tons of money and fifteen or twenty years. But reforming agriculture can be done at very little cost and the effect will be felt in a a few years if done right. Here is what the legislature must do:

    (i) repeal the MOU entered into on April 16, 1993, that shifted responsibility for water quality from ANR and ill advisedly awarded it to VAAF&M;
    (ii) repeal the broad exemption provided to agriculture and silviculture in Vermont’s land use regulations and in Act 250;
    (iii) promulgate rules to restrict consumption of petroleum products for agriculture, including artificial fertilizers and herbicides, in order to shift 90% of energy consumption to renewable fuels by 2050;
    (iv) make the receipt by farmers of all state subsidies — Current Use, Vermont Land Trust, Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, Farm to Plate, Save the Working Landscape, sales tax abatements, etc., — contingent upon converting to sustainable farming methods;
    (v) name a commission to study whether Vermont farm attrition and the degradation of water quality in the lake are inextricably linked to, and/or correlated with the historical trend to adopt conventional farming.

    These recommendations are based on the inescapable reality that (i) Vermont must clean up the lake (ii) that conventional agriculture is predicated upon discharging its wastes into the environment to lower costs and (iii) Vermont does not need to farm conventionally in order to have food.

    • Jason Farrell :

      “But we do not need to farm to have food”

      You lost me there. What does that mean?

      Thank you.

  15. Matthew Choate :

    The last thing that our ever declining number of Vermont farmers need is to be suffocated out of existence by ANR regulation. That said, the Ag Department needs to be more aggressive about those who continue to pollute into the Lake. A tax on tourism is not going to solve our issues with the water quality; rather we need a comprehensive plan and then enforce it.

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