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O'Malley's Maryland gas tax proposal unpopular with Washington County legislators

March 24, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com

A proposal backed by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley that would raise the state gas tax in July by 3.8 cents per gallon remains unpopular with many Washington County legislators.

Under the proposal, the gas tax would increase to 27.3 cents per gallon, the first increase in the tax since 1992. The current gas tax in Maryland is 23.5 cents per gallon.

Under the measure, which cleared the House of Delegates on Friday by a vote of 76-63 and now heads to the Senate, motorists also would be subject to an additional estimated half a penny tax increase per gallon on July 1, 2014, according to the Associated Press.

The tax would increase again on Jan. 1, 2015, by an estimated 3.7 more cents and in July of that year by another 4.1 cents for a total state gas tax increase of 12.1 cents, according to the Associated Press.

There is potential for another increase of 8.1 cents in 2016, but that only will happen if federal Internet sales tax legislation does not pass.

According to the Maryland Department of Transportation, the measure is expected to bring in $4.4 billion for transportation projects from fiscal year 2014 to 2019.

The bill now be taken up by the Senate.


Delegates speak out

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, chairman of the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly who has spoken out against the measure, contends that not only would the price of gas increase, but so would the prices of other goods and services.

The cost of gas is going to be the same for someone who makes $20,000 per year and someone who makes $200,000 per year, said Serafini, R-Washington.

“This is a regressive tax,” Serafini said last week. “As a percentage of their disposable income, it’s going to really create problems for those that are (the) working poor. People that are trying to better themselves, that are trying to come out of difficulty, that are struggling to make their bills now.”

“Something needs to be done, but before mass transit is done, it needs to be allocated to roads and bridges that, like it or not, is the system that most of us use most frequently,” he said.

According to figures Serafini cited from the U.S Census Bureau, 83.4 percent of Marylanders drive alone or carpool for commuting, while mass transit is used by 8.80 percent of commuters.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, who was the only delegate among the five Washington County delegation members in the House to vote for the bill Friday, said before the vote last week that the measure was going to pass, and the best he could do was try to ensure that Hagerstown gets its fair share of revenue.

“I don’t want to sit back and watch all the other jurisdictions in the state take our share of the money,” he said. “Nobody likes to pay for anything, but none of these projects are free ... we have to do it ... you just can’t build a road and then let it sit there for the next 20 years.”

The bill was called a “21st century infrastructure investment plan” in a statement Friday by O’Malley.

“The investment plan the House passed today is balanced, fiscally responsible and will support 44,000 jobs over the next five years,” O’Malley said in the statement.


Expressing skepticism

But Del. Michael J. Hough, R-Frederick/Washington, expressed skepticism about how much of the additional money raised through the measure would be used on roads.

“I know they want more money for the Purple Line (between Prince George’s and Montgomery counties) and the Red Line (in Baltimore),” he said.

“This (the gas tax bill) is going to break the back of taxpayers ...” he said.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, said many of his constituents drive between 60 and 100 miles one way for their jobs.

In areas such as Allegany County, Myers said, residents drive longer distances because they live in a rural area of the state.

“I think we need to do all we can to take care of our roads and bridges and so forth ...” Myers said, but he reiterated a concern of many Republican legislators from the area, saying  he suspected that the majority of the new revenue raised would end up funding mass transit projects in the state.

Del. Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington, said he shared in the disappointment of some of his colleagues from the area.

“The effect on Washington County is going to be dramatic,” Parrott said. “This is going to affect us disproportionately because we drive longer distances.”

He said the overall effect of the bill would be to make Maryland a “business-unfriendly” state.

“More businesses are going to migrate to other states,” Parrott said.


Wanting something back

Sen. Ronald N. Young, D-Frederick/Washington, said last week that he remained unsure of whether he would vote for the measure.

“I know it’s probably going to pass, and I know we need the money,” he said. “I feel like I keep giving votes to help, but I want something back for my district occasionally.”

Young said he really wanted to have some money designated for roads and other money designated for mass transit projects, “but it’s not going to happen with this bill.”

“I know it has to be done, but they keep pushing it down the road,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Gas tax at a glance

Here is a glance at the estimated increases in gas prices to Maryland’s current 23.5-cents-per-gallon tax under a measure approved Friday by the House of Delegates:

• One percent sales tax in July and a half-penny index for inflation — 3.8 more cents
• Index for inflation on July 1, 2014 — half a penny more
• One percent sales tax increase on Jan. 1, 2015 — 3.7 more cents
• One percent sales tax increase on July 1, 2015, and index for inflation — 4.1 more cents
Total: 12.1 more cents

If federal Internet sales tax legislation does not pass:
• One percent sales tax increase on Jan. 1, 2016 — 3.6 more cents
• One percent sales tax increase on July 1, 2016, and indexing for inflation — 4.5 cents more
Total: 20.2 more cents

Source: Maryland Department of Legislative Services

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