ANNAPOLIS - The Maryland Senate passed a bill Thursday that would help reduce the state's exploding pet population by creating a fund to pay for the spaying and neutering of cats and dogs, though opponents worry it puts the burden of that payment on small businesses.
The bill, which passed 46-1, would create a $100 fee on makers of dog and cat food that would go toward vouchers and grants to have animals spayed or neutered -- with some companies paying nearly $60,000 annually.
Manufacturers would be assessed the fee on each brand or product name they produce.
A similar bill was passed by the House of Delegates on March 15. The measure will head to Gov. Martin O'Malley's desk once differences between the two can be worked out.
The bill's goal is to prevent pet overpopulation in Maryland and the euthanization of sheltered animals.
Animal advocacy coalition Save Maryland Pets estimates 96,000 cats and dogs enter Maryland animal shelters each year. Of those, nearly half -- or 45,000 -- are put to death each year at a cost of $8 million to $9 million.
The bill's sole opponent in the Senate -- Anne Arundel County Republican Sen. Bryan Simonaire -- argued that the program was being paid for on the backs of small businesses.
Simonaire, a cat owner, said he wasn't against creating the program but opposed charging pet food manufacturers to fund it. He equated it to a tax on only one sector of small business.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture says 506 businesses would be hit by the bill, with about half paying between $100 and $700. The other half would pay between $800 and $60,000.
Nestle's Purina brand, for instance, would have to pay about $58,200 for all of its products.
"I just think this is the wrong way to do it when 34 other states are doing this through voluntary donations; we're putting a tax on just one area," he said.
He said other states fund their programs by selling special license plates, fining people convicted of animal cruelty or letting people who neuter their pets write it off of their taxes.