Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Gas Tax Up a Quarter in 2011

Oddly, this major news story appeared only in the Frederick News-Post as far as I know:

Maryland needs to increase its gas tax to pay for transportation projects across the state, the Senate president told assembled business leaders Tuesday.

Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. acknowledged that could take an act of political will by lawmakers, but pledged it as a major order of business if he is re-elected in 2011 to his Senate seat and the highest position in the Senate chamber.
If Gov. Martin O'Malley is re-elected, Miller predicted that a gas tax hike would be in effect in the first year of the new term. Miller did not specify how much of an increase. Both men are Democrats in a Democratically dominated state house.

"We're paving (I-)270 with stimulus money," Miller told an invited audience of about 80 Frederick County Chamber of Commerce trustees and board members. "All we're doing is repaving. All we're doing is maintenance. . . .

Federal stimulus money is limited to projects that can be ready within 120 days and directly result in jobs, Miller said.

Meanwhile, almost all of the state's major road improvement projects are on hold, as well as plans for Metro's red, purple and green lines.
The environmentally sound but regressive gas tax would need to go up by around twenty-five cents--more than doubling the current tax--to pay for the Corridor Cities Transitway, the Purple Line, and Baltimore Red Line. The plan is to wait until after the elections as it is easier to do tough things at the beginning of a four-year term. Of course, it may be even more difficult than now if the economy and gas prices recover between now and then.

Politics may well require an even higher tax hike. In order to get to the numbers needed to pass the tax increase, the General Assembly will need to fund other costly projects in other areas of the State. Why should Sen. Middleton (D-Charles) want to vote for a big tax hike on his constituents who already have long and expensive commutes?

Of course, the State increase in the gas tax doesn't help Montgomery answer the question of how to fund its share of these two projects. If anything, it makes it harder by making it even more difficult to levy new taxes at the local level.