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Murphy Signs Law Establishing Stormwater Utilities; Business Group: Adds Another Tax; Clean Water Lauds Action

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By Press Release

TRENTON – Among other items signed into law March 18 by Gov. Phil Murphy  was legislation that authorizes municipalities, counties, and certain authorities to establish stormwater utilities.
Dubbed the “rain tax,” the legislation was the focus of a Feb. 20 story by Vince Conti.
In that story Conti reported, New Jersey Republicans are warning property owners to hold onto their wallets when the sky starts to cloud up. Calling the recently passed stormwater utility bill (A2694 and S1073) a “rain tax,” opponents of the bill argue that the state has found a new way to tax property owners who are already among the most heavily taxed in the nation.
Supporters of the legislation argue that the state has a major problem with pollution from stormwater runoff, a problem that endangers many of New Jersey’s waterways. The increase in severe rain events associated with climate change exacerbates the problem, according to them.
The bill allows, but does not compel, counties and municipalities to establish and operate stormwater utilities. It further authorizes the utilities to charge fees and issue bonds in order to finance the creation, maintenance, and operation of the utilities. Enforcement power to compel payment of the fees levied is also included.
The bill would focus on stormwater runoff from rain and flood events that “runs off” impervious surfaces like roads, roofs, driveways, and parking lots. The proponents of the bill argue that this runoff carries with it debris, bacteria, and chemicals that eventually find their way into state waterways and drinking water.
The current stormwater infrastructure, supporters of the bill say, is inadequate to manage the problem, suffering from years of neglect and lack of investment.
The state summary of the bill points to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report that ranks stormwater management as New Jersey’s most expensive water-related funding need, with an estimated total of $15.6 billion ultimately required.
This bill assumes that most of the burden for management and funding of stormwater systems is located with local governments. Advocates say that the bill provides a sustainable way to help counties and municipalities tackle the problem of aging or non-existent stormwater management systems, reducing flooding and keeping runoff from reaching waterways.
Fees charged to property owners will support the utilities. All funds are required to be used for initiatives that reduce runoff and stormwater-related flooding.
The bill requires that 5 percent of the fees collected be sent to the state for use by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in its stormwater management efforts.
Business Perspective on New Law
The following was released March 18 by the New Jersey Business and Industry Association Vice President of Government Affairs Ray Cantor after the signing of bill S-1073 by Gov. Murphy.
The new law allows municipalities and counties to create authorities to impose fees on residential and commercial property owners based on the amount of their impervious surfaces.
 “This law adds yet another tax on our already overburdened residents and businesses, though there is no language to define how much people will be charged, how the funds will be collected or how the funds generated by it will actually address stormwater issues.
 “This legislation essentially creates a new, non-deductible property tax on the public and another bureaucratic expense at the local level. Churches and non-profits, as well as residents and businesses, will all be susceptible to these added fees based on their patios, parking lots, driveways and roofs.
 “Potentially, 565 individual municipalities could charge fees within their own boundaries without having to consider how sewerage systems and stormwater in neighboring towns affect their projects. A county could also decide to have a stormwater authority, potentially forcing property owners to deal with two bureaucracies and fees for the same property.
 “Further, this law will be extremely difficult to administer. It will require an analysis of each property in a town, credits for existing facilities, and credits for how well you maintain a facility. There is no certainty on how much can be collected and no stated appeals process.
 “NJBIA understands the needs to address non-point source pollution, flooding and infrastructure needs. There are mechanisms already in place around the state to address the intent of this legislation. With this law, however, only the costs – and not the results – will be certain.”
Clean Water Action Applauds Passage

Clean Water Action’s State Director, Amy Goldsmith, released the following statement in regards to Gov. Murphy’s signing of the stormwater utility bill (S.1073) March 18:
 “Clean Water Action is pleased to see that Gov. Murphy signed the stormwater utility bill (S.1073) which enables municipalities and counties to create mechanisms to address non-point source pollution more effectively, helping reduce flooding and pollution in the Garden State.
 If New Jersey is going to provide maximum protection to our water resources through the state, then the Murphy administration needs to take swift action to reverse the full suite of Christie’s water rule rollbacks including flood hazard and wetlands rules, enforce existing Category 1 (C1) safeguards per the federal Clean Water Act, as well as adopt the recently proposed C1 designations.
 By re-assembling a toolbox of strong water rules, the Governor would have the power to better ensure that our state’s drinking water is safer and more affordable. Taking action now will also provide more tools to “just say no” to any of the 12 proposed fossil fuel projects. Pipelines (7 proposed) or power plants (5 proposed) all consume vast amounts of freshwater, pollute the air and water, and cause health harms to workers and communities along the way.”

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