O’mal­ley pushes for rais­ing gas tax

Tes­ti­fies trans­porta­tion needs out­weigh bur­den on driv­ers

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY DAVID HILL

AN­NAPO­LIS | Gov. Martin O’mal­ley told House and Se­nate law­mak­ers Wed­nes­day that fail­ing to raise Mary­land’s gas tax could lead to crum­bling roads and bridges in the fu­ture, and that they should pass his pro­posal de­spite its lack of pop­u­lar­ity with res­i­dents.

Mr. O’mal­ley, a Demo­crat, touted his pro­posed 6 per­cent sales tax on gas while tes­ti­fy­ing be­fore the Se­nate Bud­get and Tax­a­tion Com­mit­tee and at a joint hear­ing of the House Ways and Means and En­vi­ron­men­tal Mat­ters com­mit­tees.

Leg­is­la­tors have said a gas-tax hike ap­pears un­likely dur­ing this year’s Gen­eral Assem­bly ses­sion be­cause of ris­ing gas prices, public out­cry and sev­eral other tax in­creases al­ready be­ing con­sid­ered.

The gov­er­nor’s pro­posal would im­pose a 2 per­cent sales tax on whole­sale pur­chases and tack on 2 per­cent­age points in each of the next two years. Any sched­uled in­crease would be post­poned for one year if gas prices rise by more than 15 per­cent in that year.

Mr. O’mal­ley says the in­crease even­tu­ally would gen­er­ate $613 mil­lion a year for road and tran­sit im­prove­ments and cre­ate 7,500 jobs.

He ac­knowl­edged that cur­rent eco­nomic cir­cum­stances are tough, but he said the state — which has not raised its cur­rent 23.5-cents-a-gal­lon ex­cise tax on gas since 1992 — needs bet­ter roads and can­not af­ford to put off the need any longer.

“Roads do not up­grade or main­tain them­selves,” he said. “No one has wanted to ad­dress this prob­lem for 20 years. And ev­ery year, there­fore, our peo­ple are pay­ing an in­creas­ing cost for this in­ac­tion.”

Mr. O’mal­ley was joined by state trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials and lo­cal off ice hold­ers who spoke in fa­vor of the gas-tax in­crease, ar­gu­ing that road and tran­sit im­prove­ments could pay long-term div­i­dends by cre­at­ing con­struc­tion jobs and at­tract­ing busi­nesses and new res­i­dents.

They de­scribed roads in Mary­land as be­ing among the most con­gested in the na­tion and said res­i­dents al­ready are pay­ing a “hid­den tax” in the form of hours lost and gas burned while sit­ting in traf­fic.

“We know these are dif­fi­cult times and dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions,” said Prince Ge­orge’s County Ex­ec­u­tive raise gas prices by as much as 20 cents per gal­lon. State trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials said it could vault Mary­land from rank­ing 31st na­tion­wide among states in gas prices to hav­ing the sixth-most ex­pen­sive gas in the na­tion.

While the gov­er­nor is still push­ing for an in­crease, lead­ing law­mak­ers have said his pro­posal is look­ing less and less likely with gas prices climb­ing to­ward $4 a gal­lon and leg­is­la­tors al­ready look­ing to pass a bud­get that in­cludes sev­eral other tax hikes, in­clud­ing a broad in­come-tax in­crease on most res­i­dents.

Mr. O’mal­ley said he is will­ing to work with law­mak­ers and amend the bill. He even said he would even con­sider a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to en­sure funds raised by the tax go only to­ward trans­porta­tion and can’t be si­phoned off for other uses, as was done in past years.

PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY AN­DREW HARNIK/THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A coali­tion op­posed to Mary­land rais­ing the tax on gaso­line to pay for trans­porta­tion projects ral­lies (top) in front of the Mary­land State House on Wed­nes­day. Mary­land Gov. Martin O’mal­ley was in An­napo­lis to tes­tify be­fore a joint hear­ing in sup­port of the act. “Roads do not up­grade or main­tain them­selves,” he said.

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