"Chicken Tax" is Back With a New Name, Modifications in Md. - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

"Chicken Tax" is Back With a New Name, Modifications in Md.

ANNAPOLIS, Md.- Maryland has what some call a rain tax, and last year a bill was submitted that would have created a chicken tax. The goal of both was to raise money for the state to invest in clean water initiatives. 

The so called "chicken tax" bill was killed last year after former Governor Martin O'Malley said he would veto it. The bill was pulled from the House and died in a Senate committee. This year, it is back.

The bill has been modified, given a new name, and resubmitted in both the house and senate. But poultry farmers and companies still aren't buying it.

Major Maryland poultry companies, such as Perdue and Mountaire, would have to pay five cents per chicken supplied to farmers in the state if the Bay Tax Equity Act is passed by the state house.

Delegate David Moon, representing District 20 in Montgomery County, and the house sponsor of the bill says it is a price worth paying.

"Right now, all of the other tax payers of the state are paying for this epa required cleanup through storm water fees, flush fees, and general fund expenditures that are coming from tax dollars.  This bill is simply asking these large poultry companies to pay their fair share of the cleanup cost for this bay restoration," said Moon.

But Bill Satterfield with Delmarva Poultry Industry Incorporated said passing this bill is a dangerous game to play for Maryland's economy, specifically on the Eastern Shore.

"The Eastern Shore should be very concerned, because if it cost more for the chicken companies to place birds in Maryland, they may think, oh let's go a couple of miles down the road and place them in Delaware and Virginia. So, it really puts in peril the 700 farm families that grow chickens on Maryland's Eastern Shore," said Satterfield.

Altogether, Satterfield said it would cost five companies $15 million total. The Maryland Farm Bureau is also concerned with the cost.

"This places Maryland poultry farmers at a huge economic disadvantage, because no other surrounding state places a 5 cent tax per bird that is placed in their state. Many supporting this bill have said that the bill needed amendments to fix a few flaws, we believe not only does the bill have flaws, it's punitive and harmful to the economic viability of family farms and rural communities across this state," said Matt Teffeau with the Farm Bureau.

Moon said the money raised by this bill will come back to the farmers in cover crop programs and septic upgrades. According to Satterfield, the bill, as it is written, would ruin the current cover crop program. However, Moon said the bill, as it is written, would allow all farmers to benefit from the new cover crop program. That would be an improvement, in his eyes, over last year's bill.

Yet environmental groups are adamant that something needs to be done to address nutrient runoff from the shore. A United States Geological Survey study released Thursday highlighted the problem on the shore.

"On the Eastern Shore, the concentrations of nitrogen in groundwater, and nitrogen and phosphorus in surface waters, are well above natural levels and are among the highest in the nation,” said Scott Ator, a USGS hydrologist.

Satterfield said he feels the five companies are being singled out, and their contributions to cleaning up the watershed are being ignored.

"It ignores the fact that the chicken companies have made tens of millions of dollars of investments in the last dozen years to help their growers handle their manure," he explained. "This includes voluntary participation in the state's manure transport program. It ignores the fact the companies have spent a quarter million dollars to help growers put in trees on their farms. It ignores that Perdue has lost 60 million dollars in the last dozen years in their manure to fertilizer pellet plant in southern Delaware. It's as if they don't even recognize that the chicken companies have stepped forward to help their growers with managing nutrients."

Moon said the chicken companies are only being singled out for special treatment and cover crop subsidies.

"The rest of us are paying for our share of bay pollution through storm water management fees, which have been very controversial this year. Governor Hogan even made a big issue over this. All of us are paying for this. If anyone is being singled out, I would say the larger poultry integrators are being singled out for special treatment," said Moon.

Despite concerns from DPI and the Farm Bureau that those cover crop subsidies would only cover farmers who use chicken manure as a fertilizer, Moon said in this bill, all farmers will be eligible.

As written, the cost could not be passed down from the big poultry companies to their growers. The senate version of this bill is sponsored by the same man as last year, senator Richard Madaleno. Moon said he is optimistic all parties can come to the table and figure something out.

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