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They spoke too soon

December 15, 1998

Before the first meeting of a group of business and government leaders appointed to study whether there's a need to raise Maryland's gasoline tax, newly-elected state representatives Chris Shank and Alex Mooney have declared their opposition to a hike.

We too have reservations about any boost that funds an endless number of new road projects based on the assumption that gasoline will never be more than $1 a gallon again. Our fear, in fact, is that when gasoline does go up again, voters will demand more mass transit options, leaving millions of dollars worth of asphalt and concrete, unused and unrecoverable, in the ground.

But by declaring their opposition so early, Del. Shank and Sen. Mooney seem to be opting out of any negotiations on the issue, negotiations that could be important to economic development here.

In May, a group of Tri-State businesspeople met to talk about congestion on Interstate 81, whose designers envisioned that 15 percent of its traffic would be heavy trucks. It's since grown to 40 percent, a figure likely to increase every time a new truck terminal or distribution center locates near the intersection of Interstates 70 and 81. There's an effort by the railroads to shift some of that freight their way, but goods still have to get from the rail depot to destinations located along asphalt roads. Some new gas tax revenue might be needed for that purpose.

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To Mooney's objection - that it would do taxpayers no good to raise the gasoline tax while reducing the income tax, we note that unlike the income tax, gasoline taxes are essentially user fees which taxpayers can reduce with carpooling or other conservation measures.

To Shank's objection - that 40 percent of the gasoline tax pays for metropolitan area mass transit - we note that MARC train service is scheduled to arrive in Frederick in 2002, giving those in this region more mass-transit options.

And so while we share these two lawmakers' reluctance to hike taxes just because it can be done, we'd rather see them wait to take a position until they've heard the study committee's input on what a gasoline tax hike will mean to this region.

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