‘Chicken tax bill’ bad all around (Editorial)

(March 17, 2015) Maryland Senate Bill 533 is known, unofficially, as the “chicken tax bill.”
It is a classic example, among anti-ag enthusiasts, of how what is meant to be “do-good legislation,” in reality, stumbles and ends up doing no good at all for the cause.
The proposed chicken tax legislation, authored by Montgomery County Democrat Del. Richard Madaleno Jr.., would impose a five-cent-per-bird fee on every chicken placed on a Maryland farm.
Its purpose, of course, is punitive of the state’s poultry industry for its alleged role in abetting the failed health of the Chesapeake Bay as the phosphorous-rich poultry litter is spread as fertilizer on the farm fields of the watershed.
Madaleno provided, however, that the proceeds of the five-cent fee be used to pay for the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s cover crop program but only on land which had received poultry litter.
The cover crop program is a major player in MDA’s nutrient management program for the Bay and, as SB 533 is written, it would take a huge chunk out of the Bay clean-up effort.
The bill received its first hearing earlier this month before the Senate Committee on Education, Health and the Environment.
The unlikely collision between intention and actual result was fully aired.
Here’s a summary of MDA testimony.
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The bill would eliminate the current funding provision whereby 40 percent of the revenue to Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund from septic system owners goes to fund cover crop implementation. 
Current annual revenue is about $11 million and makes up half of the funding provided for MDA’s Cover Crop Program. The other half comes from the 2010 Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund.  
CBRF funding would be replaced under the bill with revenue from the 5 cents per bird levy. 
While this would generate roughly $15 million in revenue, the bill also says that revenue shall be used to support the planting of cover crops on land only where poultry litter has been applied. 
MDA estimates that this restriction would limit spending to $5 million and, if the same policy was applied to the program regardless of funding, a 75-percent reduction in cover crop cost share activity would occur.  
If the bill were to pass, revenue from the fund in the first year would be minimal due to structuring of the new program and establishing processes by which the revenue is to be paid and made available to the cover crop program.
That would result in significant reduction in available funding in the first year.  
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Another view: MDA also receives funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund but it is a non-dedicated fund. Assuming both funding sources are available, there will be at least a 25-percent reduction in cover crop acres planted.
This will fall short of the 2015 TMDL watershed goal of 386,000 acres and and not allow the state to meet its ag nutrient reduction goals.
Those attending the bill’s hearing orated that Sen. Madaleno acknowledged a major flaw in his bill, that the merasure would radically change the funding structure toward programs like the cover crop program.
Under the program, Maryland farmers planted a record 478,000 acres from 2013-14, acknowledeged as major contribution to the Bay restoration effort.
A suggestion, Sen. Madaleno: Rather than amend the bill to repair the flaws (if indeed that is possible), simply withdraw it. Surely you have other important things to do.