Senate panel hears transportation revenue ideas
The panel is examining ways to increase funding by $800 million a year for roads projects, an issue that's likely to be one of several budget related priorities in January when the General Assembly meets for its regular legislative session. The state legislature will also try to take another bike out of Maryland's persistent $1 billion structural deficit.
Lawmakers mostly kept their thoughts to themselves during the afternoon hearing, though some Republican lawmakers expressed discomfort with the pattern of state spending on public transit projects that benefit urban areas at the expense of rural road construction.
Other ideas included adding a nickel or a dime to the state gas tax, adding a six percent sales tax to the wholesale price of gas, and doubling an assortment of fees.
Analysts warned that gas tax revenues have been flat because drivers are selected more fuel efficient cars and used their cars less during the recession.
In 2007 Gov. Martin O'Malley proposed tying the gas tax to the construction cost index. The General Assembly rejected the idea. Legislative analysts showed that the gas tax would have risen to about 41 cents per gallon in 2010 had it passed. The state gas tax is now 23.5 cents.
In evaluating unmet transportation needs, state lawmakers on the committee were guided by the interim findings from a Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding, which estimated the state needs $800 million a year to "shore up and expand core" funding.
Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley presented sobering news during the hearing: The cost to fund just the top priority project for each of the state's 24 subdivisions would be $12 billion. She said that even if the General Assembly raises revenues and the federal government provides more funding than expected it is "very clear" that the state could not "knock off" the backlog of projects.