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Gas tax to stay at 23.5 cents

February 03, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - There will be no hike in the gas tax this year, which pleases local lawmakers who were concerned an increase would hurt Washington County gas stations and other businesses.

"I'm never upset when there's no momentum for a tax increase," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

But McKee said he also realizes that the Maryland General Assembly still has to find a way to prop up the state's ailing Transportation Trust Fund.

The trust fund gets most of its money through the 23.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax, which does not keep pace with inflation.

The fund pays for both roads and public transportation.

That's a sore subject for local lawmakers, who argue that people living in rural areas don't use mass transit.

One way to make the system more fair would be a regional sales tax increase, Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, has said.

People in metropolitan counties, who put a greater burden on the system, should pay 6 percent instead of 5 percent, with the extra money going to the transportation fund, he said.

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Munson said the chances of such a proposal gaining widespread support, however, are slim.

Earlier this year, Gov. Parris Glendening had talked about a nickel increase in the 23.5-cent gas tax.

Glendening began backing away from the idea and, in a joint statement with House and Senate leaders Friday, put to rest any speculation about the idea.

"While it is clear that future enhancements to the Transportation Trust Fund are essential, our short-term spending level remains adequate," said a prepared statement from Glendening, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.

But they warned that the state won't be able to afford future transportation projects unless something is done.

The Transportation Investment Committee has been assigned to work on the trust fund problem and report back before the next legislative session.

The 19-member panel, which includes Don Bowman of D.M. Bowman Trucking in Williamsport, will hold public meetings throughout the state.

McKee and other members of the House transportation subcommittee, also might join the panel.

"We've got to fix the big problem and using the Band-Aid approach just doesn't work," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington.

Local lawmakers worried that raising the gas tax would drive Maryland's tax higher than nearby states. Pennsylvania's gas tax is 25.9 cents per gallon and West Virginia's is 25.35 cents.

Motorists and truck drivers passing through Washington County wouldn't stop here for gas, they said.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said Washington County voters can take partial credit for the demise of the gas tax proposal this year.

Voting in a fiscal conservative such as Mooney helped seal the fate of the proposal, he said.

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