If two Maryland state lawmakers get their way, voters would decide transportation issues.
Fed up with inaction on transportation funding during the regular session that ended in April, Sen. Jim Rosapepe, D-College Park, and Delegate Brian Feldman, D-Potomac, continue to press for solutions to help the state pay for road and transit projects.
The lawmakers are pushing to include transportation funding as part of a second special session at the statehouse. Specifically, they want consideration for a state constitutional amendment allowing voters to make decisions on infrastructure and traffic congestion matters.
In a letter to Gov. Martin O’Malley, Rosapepe and Feldman said that it is obvious that something needs to be done to address gridlock in the state.
“It is no secret that our state leads the nation in traffic congestion. Nor is it a secret why: the combination of increased fuel efficiency, the Great Recession, and rising and fluctuating oil prices have blown a big hole in Maryland’s transportation trust fund, which finances investments in roads, bridges, and transit,” they wrote.
Little movement has occurred in Annapolis on the funding issue. The Democratic governor’s initiative to apply the state’s 6 percent sales tax on fuel purchases to help address transportation needs received little attention during the regular session.
O’Malley’s initiative was unveiled after the announcement of a blue-ribbon commission on transportation funding that the state needs an additional $875 million annually to address infrastructure needs. The panel estimated that imposing a 6 percent sales tax would add $613 million a year – about three-quarters of the amount needed.
The state’s fuel tax rates have remained unchanged for 20 years. The tax rate for diesel has since held at 24.25 cents per gallon, and the tax for gas has been 23.5 cents per gallon.
Feldman and Rosapepe cited lawmakers’ unwillingness to draw the ire of voters for inaction on the governor’s initiative.
Dubbed the “end the gridlock constitutional amendment,” the Democratic lawmakers’ initiative would authorize the governor and the General Assembly to draw up a specific plan for major public investment in roads, bridges, and transit. The plan would then be submitted to voters.
The amendment would also include a provision assuring that funds raised through the referendum would be used solely for purposes presented to voters.
Any assurance of protecting transportation revenue is welcomed by truckers and others who have grown accustom to diversions in the state.
In the past 30 years, the transportation trust fund has been raided a dozen times, totaling about $670 million. The state’s general fund has been used to reimburse the transportation account for all but about $220 million.
A second special session is planned for July.
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