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County businessman opposes Md. panel's proposed transportation fee hikes

Bowman says proposed gas tax hike would happen too fast

November 07, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • Don Bowman
Don Bowman

WILLIAMSPORT — Don Bowman, whose Washington County businesses include a trucking company, said Monday that he did not support a Maryland panel’s recommendations, which include several transportation-related fee increases such as a 15-cent gas tax hike over three years.

“I was representing the trucking industry. We’re definitely against it,” said Bowman, who served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding. Bowman is managing partner of the Williamsport-based Bowman Group, which includes trucking, hotel and hospitality businesses.

Commission members didn’t take a formal vote on the recommendations, but the commission got consensus for the package of recommendations, Bowman said.

“It wasn’t unanimous, even though we do need to do something. That’s just too much too fast,” Bowman said.

“They want to raise just about all the taxes and (fees.) A lot of that will be fought out in the legislature. Just because we recommended it doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. Thank God (state legislators) have to get re-elected,” Bowman said.

“I’m sure that before anybody proposes any big taxes, they’re going to give it a lot of thought,” Bowman said.

The commission’s recommendations include raising various transportation fees. One recommendation is to increase the vehicle registration fee by 50 percent.

Vehicle registration fees are determined by the type of vehicle and its weight. For a passenger car that weighs up to 3,700 pounds, the fee for a two-year registration is $128, according to the Motor Vehicle Administration’s website. The fee for a heavier passenger car is $180.

The state’s transportation system is “on the verge of financial collapse unless action is taken now to change course for a new, more secure, heading,” Commission Chairman Gus Bauman wrote in a letter in the commission’s Nov. 1 final report.

The commission also is recommending incrementally returning highway-user revenues to local governments, according to the final report. Recently, those funds were diverted to the state’s general fund.

This has left several local governments, including local towns, short on money for road repairs and paving.

Increasing Maryland’s gas tax “hurts the low-income people and the commercial people tremendously,” Bowman said.

Even though Maryland hasn’t increased its gas tax since the early 1990s, raising it by 15 cents in three years is “trying to make up too much time too quick,” Bowman said.

Maryland hasn’t raised its gas tax since 1992.

The current Maryland gas tax is 23.5 cents a gallon.

West Virginia’s gas tax is 32.2 cents per gallon and Pennsylvania’s is 31.2 cents per gallon, according to transportation department officials in those states.

The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon.

Raising Maryland’s gas tax by 15 cents to 38.5 cents would give the state the highest gas tax in the Tri-State area.

That could result in motorists driving through Maryland to fill up their tanks and that would hurt more than gas stations, Bowman said. That could also hurt hotels and other businesses, he said.

“We’ve got to remain friendly to the interstate traveler,” Bowman said.

“Any tax hurts us hard, especially after the tremendous toll increases we’ve had,” Bowman said.

“It puts a strain on the trucking industry, which has already been hurt bad by the economy,” Bowman said.

In addition to the recent toll increase for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, tolls went up for tunnels and a bridge in the Baltimore area. The Bay Bridge toll for a car increased from $2.50 to $4 on Nov. 1, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation’s website.

The Blue Ribbon Commission also recommended implementing tolls on Maryland Transportation Authority roads where no toll is now collected.

Bowman said the panel’s discussion in that regard focused on covering gaps that currently allow people to avoid paying some tolls.

While the panel did not discuss adding a toll to Interstate 81, Bowman said if the Maryland portion of I-81 is widened he would expect there to at least be a discussion about adding tolls there.

Recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding’s Nov. 1 final report makes a number of recommendations to the governor and state legislators. They include:

  • A three-year phase-in of 5 cents per gallon per year on the fuel tax levied on gasoline and special fuels such as diesel and clean-burning fuels. In the fourth year, institute an index component, with a floor and ceiling, to adjust the tax for inflationary aspects of the economy. (Estimated to raise $491 million in net new revenues, growing with inflation starting in year four.)

  • A 50 percent increase in vehicle registration fees. (Estimated $165 million in net new revenues.)

  • Increase the titling tax to 6.5 percent or eliminate trade-in allowance. (Estimated $70 million in net new revenues.)

  • Various fare increases for all Maryland Transit Administration transit modes and elimination of free passes. (Estimated $26 million in net new revenues.)

  • Increase the Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program fee to $28. (Estimated $22 million in net new revenues.)

  • Various increases to other Motor Vehicle Administration fees. (Estimated $34 million in net new revenues.)

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