Maryland lawmakers offer road funding fixes

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 2/19/2013

Multiple bills introduced at the Maryland statehouse tackle concerns about transportation funding. Democrats and Republicans, however, differ on how to address road, bridge and transit work.

A year ago a blue-ribbon commission on transportation funding announced that the state needs an additional $875 million annually to address infrastructure concerns. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr, D-Calvert, is among the lawmakers with plans to address the state’s funding needs.

Miller offered a bill to add a 3 percent sales tax on the wholesale price of fuel – which, at current prices, is estimated to raise the tax rate by 10 cents per gallon. Legislative analysts estimated that the sales tax proposal would generate about $300 million a year.

The tax source would be combined with the existing 23.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax and 24.25-cent-per-gallon diesel tax. The tax rates have remained unchanged for 21 years.

The plan includes a revenue source for county transportation projects. Specifically, SB830 would give counties the option to charge up to a 5-cent-per-gallon fuel tax at the wholesale level.

Also touted by Miller is a bill to create a “lockbox” to secure transportation funds. In the past 30 years, the state’s Transportation Trust Fund has been raided a dozen times, totaling about $670 million.

SB829 would limit raids to occasions when the governor declares an emergency and state lawmakers endorse the switch.

Delegate Susan Krebs, R-Carroll, said the bill doesn’t do enough to protect transportation revenue, which includes fuel taxes, vehicle excise taxes and motor vehicle taxes.

“If Democrats want more money for transportation, they need to stop raiding the Transportation Trust Fund,” Krebs said in a news release.

Krebs bill – HB176 – would impose stricter limits on dipping into road funds. Diversions would be limited to instances when the state is invaded or a major catastrophe occurs. Only then could lawmakers vote to use the money for reasons not related to transportation.

Two more bills would amend the state’s constitution to restrict money in the trust fund from being diverted to other budgets. HB524 and SB643 also would give voters the final say on funding for any future transportation plans.

Other bills would benefit transit work. SB362 would allow counties or municipalities to add a 2-cent tax on fuel purchases for local roads and transit projects.

SB652 would impose a 2.1-cent tax on the wholesale fuel price in areas serviced by mass transit.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Maryland, click here.

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