It happens every time it rains.
Water washes off streets and parking lots, ending up in streams, rivers and lakes. And that runoff carries everything from leaked motor oil and road salt to dog poop, polluting waterways throughout New Jersey.
Last week, a bill aimed at managing stormwaters, and its pollution threat, was passed by state lawmakers. It now awaits Gov. Phil Murphy’s signature.
But opponents of the bill have slammed the measure as an unnecessary “rain tax” that will cost New Jerseyans more than its worth.
If signed into law, the bill, which is known as the Clean Stormwater and Flood Reduction Act but officially labeled A2694/S1073, would allow counties and municipalities to create stormwater management utilities dedicated to reducing flood risk and cutting back on the amount of pollution that washes into Garden State waterways.
The utilities would be funded by fees assessed to property owners based on the amount of impervious surfaces (like roads, roofs and parking lots) they have on their property.
The bill, which was championed by state Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex,) was passed by the state Assembly with a 45-31 vote on Jan. 31. Later that day, the Senate passed the final version of the bill on a 25-11 vote.
Republicans in Trenton strongly opposed the bill, framing the measure as a “rain tax” that would place unfair financial burdens on property-owners.
“The last thing this state needs is more debt and another runaway tax. Especially one that taxes the weather,” Assemblyman Christopher DePhillips (R-Bergen) said before the final Assembly vote.
DePhillips stresses that his primary concern is economic and that he’d like to have had a debate to find alternative solutions to the environmental problems faced by stormwater runoff. He added that he would have preferred a system of tax credits for businesses that act on their own to manage stormwater on their properties.
The passage of the bill was praised by environmental groups, who have pushed for legislation on this issue for years.
“The biggest source of pollution we face is from stormwater runoff," said Jeff Tittel, the director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This legislation is an important step forward to help clean up our waterways and protect us from flooding.”
According to Jersey Water Works, which is a group dedicated to the improvement of the state’s water systems, New Jersey’s existing stormwater management infrastructure is unable to handle the amount of rain brought on by increasingly frequent severe storms. Because of this, the group says, New Jersey is more at risk of flooding than ever before.
“Handling stormwater is a complex problem. It requires a multifaceted solution,” said Jane Kenny, a co-chair of Jersey Water Works. “Recognizing the importance of maintaining stormwater infrastructure, and providing the funding to do so, is necessary to prevent flooding from taking an even bigger toll on New Jersey families and businesses. Stormwater utilities are one key way to accomplish this”
Stormwater poses an even larger problem in communities that rely on combined sewer systems, outdated infrastructure that channels stormwater and sewage into the same wastewater system. During heavy rain storms these combined systems can overflow, resulting in a spill of raw or partially treated sewage.
New Jersey would not be breaking new ground nationally with this bill. More than 40 states and the District of Columbia operate stormwater utilities.
Assemblyman Hal Wirths (R-Sussex) connected the stormwater proposal to the recently signed $15 minimum wage law. Wirths said in that this is just the latest in a series of tax increases proposed by Democratic state lawmakers, and he believes that these proposals are driving up the cost of living
“I don’t know if a snow tax is coming next year and I’m not being sarcastic,” Wirths said. “This is just another tax, a rain tax on the people of New Jersey and I urge my colleagues to vote no on this because it is just never-ending down here.”
This story has been updated to reflect that the bill passed Assembly on a 45-31 vote, rather than a 49-27 vote.
Michael Sol Warren may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MSolDub. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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