Advertisement

The mass-transit option

January 13, 1999

Maryland officials facing a future shortfall of revenues for road and bridge projects believe that 1999 is the now-or-never year to find new sources of cash. But as they discuss their options, we hope they find a place in the state's plans for mass transit.

Long before the 1999 session opened, Maryland Chamber President Champe McCulloch predicted that lawmakers would act to beef up the state's Transportation Trust Fund, in a way that would prevent mass-transit from eating up too much of the money. Last week during a meeting of the state's Transportation Investment Committee, some lawmakers suggesting taking mass transit out of the trust fund altogether.

Under their proposal, a broad-based tax like the state sales levy would pay for buses and subways, while the gasoline tax would fund road projects.

Other ideas: The idea of raising the gasoline tax has been hashed around for months, in part because gas prices are at the lowest point in recent memory and because the voters will have three years to forget their resentment if it gets done now.

Advertisement

Nevertheless, lawmakers are still leery about raising this most visible tax. Many agree with House Speaker Casper Taylor, who says it would be easier to raise the state sales tax by half a cent instead.

Neither increase - a modest gas-tax boost or a half-penny boost in the sales tax - would severely burden taxpayers and there's an argument to be made for doing needed projects now rather than waiting until traffic congestion gets worse later.

What we worry about is that Maryland's transportation future is being planned on the premise that gasoline prices will stay low indefinitely. If they don't - and no good fortune lasts forever - we're sure citizens would call for more mass-transit options.

Our question: Should the state keep on building roads until that happens, or start encouraging citizens to take at least some trips by bus or train before it becomes absolutely necessary? In most cases we'd bet citizens would rather face a choice than an ultimatum.

The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|