TAX

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro -

Gen­eral Assem­bly have called for an in­crease in the state’s 23.5-cents-a-gal­lon ex­cise gas tax, which funds road and tran­sit in­fra­struc­ture and has not been raised since 1992.

Mr. O’mal­ley pro­posed his bill last month that would ap­ply a 2 per­cent sales tax this year on whole­sale gas pur­chases, then tack on an ex­tra 2 per­cent­age points in each of the next two years.

The pro­posal even­tu­ally could add more than 20 cents to the cost of a gal­lon of gas.

Sup­port­ers ar­gue that a tax in­crease is nec­es­sary to boost lag­ging trans­porta­tion rev­enue and pay for needed road and tran­sit im­prove­ments in the state. Mr. O’mal­ley said a 6 per­cent sales tax would raise $613 mil­lion a year and cre­ate 7,500 jobs re­lated to con­struc­tion and other projects.

“Noth­ing has been taken off the ta­ble,” said O’mal­ley spokes­woman Takirra Win­field. “The gov­er­nor feels like this is some­thing that we need to do now so that our chil­dren won’t have to face the cost of our in­ac­tion.”

Crit­ics con­tend that rais­ing the tax will over­bur­den tax­pay­ers al­ready frus­trated by un­pre­dictable gas prices. Polls have con­sis­tently shown that a ma­jor­ity of Mary­lan­ders op­pose the tax.

Mary­land gas prices rose by about 20 cents last month, ac­cord­ing to AAA. An av­er­age gal­lon of reg­u­lar gas now costs $3.70.

Del­e­gate An­drew A. Ser­afini said many ru­ral con­stituents have long com­mutes and lit­tle ac­cess to pub­lic tran­sit, which would cause them to be dis­pro­por­tion­ately hurt by the tax.

Mr. Ser­afini, Wash­ing­ton Repub­li­can, said the state in­stead should try to en­sure that its ex­ist­ing trans­porta­tion fund­ing is spent on trans­porta­tion.

In re­cent years, law­mak­ers have bor­rowed hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars from the Trans­porta­tion Trust Fund for non­trans­porta­tion ex­penses.

Mr. O’mal­ley’s bill would re­quire re­pay­ment of bor­rowed funds. Mr. Ser­afini said the state needs to get into the habit of man­ag­ing money more re­spon­si­bly.

“The re­al­ity is there is enough money,” he said. “It’s like me ask­ing my wife to put a lock on the re­frig­er­a­tor. I have to de­velop the in­ner dis­ci­pline.”

While op­po­nents hope to bury the gas tax and un­de­cided law­mak­ers say it is on life sup­port, Demo­cratic lead­ers in­sists the pro­posal isn’t dead.

Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said the Gen­eral Assem­bly is busy with the gov­er­nor’s pro­posed $35.8 bil­lion bud­get and won’t get to his other pro­pos­als — in­clud­ing the gas tax, flush tax and off­shore wind en­ergy — un­til af­ter they have made progress on the spend­ing plan.

Mr. Miller, Prince George’s Demo­crat, said the fate of the gas-tax pro­posal rests in how ag­gres­sively Mr. O’mal­ley con­tin­ues to pur­sue it.

“It’s still on the ta­ble,” he said. “Our pri­mary func­tion is to pass a bal­anced bud­get and then worry about the other mea­sures. It’s an ad­min­is­tra­tion bill and it’s go­ing to rise and fall on the will of the ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

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