Bogus Conservative Media Talking Point: Martin O'Malley “Taxed The Rain”

Conservative media outlets are attacking Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley for purportedly “taxing the rain” as governor of Maryland. But as The Baltimore Sun noted, the state did “not tax the rain.” O'Malley approved an anti-pollution levy on certain property owners to comply with federal law protecting the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed.  

The talking point that O'Malley allegedly “taxed the rain” has been frequently used by conservatives since his presidential announcement. For instance: 

  • During Fox's May 30 coverage of O'Malley's campaign announcement, Fox News contributor Cal Thomas attacked O'Malley for imposing tax increases like “the famous rain tax.”
  • During the May 31 edition of Fox & Friends Sunday, co-host Anna Kooiman wondered how O'Malley will “be able to stay relevant especially when he's got these huge -- this record of major taxes, including taxing the rain.” Fox News contributor Deneen Borelli later said “there isn't a thing he wouldn't tax.”
  • Richard J. Douglas wrote in a May 31 National Review piece: “Environmental extremism is another O'Malley signature issue. The governor's 'rain tax' (collected on quarterly water bills) made Maryland a national laughingstock. Small businesses weren't laughing, though, when their water bills skyrocketed in 2013. Baltimore's elderly, struggling on fixed incomes and already pressed by crime and collapsing neighborhoods, now face liens thanks to the rain tax.”
  • CNN's S.E. Cupp on June 4 tweeted a reference to “Governor Rain Tax.”
  • On his June 5 program, Fox News Radio host John Gibson attacked O'Malley as “Mr. Tax The Rain.” Fox News digital editor Chris Stirewalt replied that “O'Malley's rain tax doesn't necessarily disqualify him with the Democratic electorate.” 
  • A June 6 American Thinker piece by Thomas Lifson referred to O'Malley as “the guy who taxed rain.”
  • A June 9 column by Arthur Schaper claimed of O'Malley: “This man taxed the rain - no joke!”
  • Daniel Greenfield wrote in a June 10 FrontPage Magazine piece that “O'Malley is famous for is taxing the rain as governor” and Democrats “can cast their vote for a man who will tax water falling from the sky ... O'Malley will tax any rain that falls on you.” He added that his only support would come from voters who “hate” rain.

But referring to the 2012 legislation in question as a tax on rain is misleading. The Post wrote in an editorial that the “rain tax” is “a good applause line” but “a tougher sell on the merits”: 

The “rain tax” is, in fact, a federally mandated levy on pollution caused by storm water run-off, one of the main culprits in the tragic, decades-long environmental degradation of the Chesapeake Bay. Established by state legislation passed in 2012, the tax applies to the state's 10 most heavily populated urban and suburban jurisdictions, places with an abundance of hard surfaces -- parking lots, roads, driveways. In those built-up places, storm water carrying sediment, nutrients, trash and a variety of other pollutants washes into nearby streams and rivers, which drain into the bay. Revenues from the tax are meant to help localities adopt programs and build infrastructure to limit the damage from that runoff in order to protect the body of water.

The Baltimore Sun wrote in a June 2014 editorial that “rain tax” claims are “nonsense” since “Maryland does not tax the rain. It has directed its 10 most populous jurisdictions to raise revenue to pay for stormwater management upgrades that will prevent pollution from choking the Chesapeake Bay, per federal environmental regulations.” Washington Post reporter Jenna Johnson wrote in a fact check article that “it's more of a pollution tax than a rain tax.”

The nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation called the “rain tax” moniker “blatantly false,” stating: “The truth is that we are talking about a fee to reduce pollution from water that washes off hard surfaces and empties into local waterways. Runoff pollution is real--it is responsible for no-swimming advisories and beach closures in local waters, fish consumption advisories, and dead zones in the Bay that can't support aquatic life. It also causes localized flooding and property damage. And in many areas, it is the largest source of pollution.”

The misleading “rain tax” talking point has repeatedly been used by Maryland Republicans, especially during Larry Hogan's successful run for Maryland governor. In May, Hogan signed SB 863, the “Rain Tax Mandate Repeal (Watershed Protection and Restoration Programs, Revision), which repeals the requirement that forces local jurisdictions to collect a stormwater remediation fee, and instead authorizes such jurisdictions to do so.” The Sun reported that “environmentalists worked to get the proposal from an outright repeal of stormwater fees to the version that passed.”