Cumberland Times-News

Local News

January 4, 2013

Maryland legislative leaders: Gasoline tax hike a tough sell

CAMBRIDGE — While Maryland legislative leaders say they are painfully aware of the need for additional transportation money, they didn’t sound very confident on Friday during a preview of the upcoming session that there will be enough support in the Legislature to produce a revenue package of the magnitude that is needed.

Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, who chairs the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, told participants at the Maryland Association of Counties winter meeting that tough votes on tax increases in recent years have worn out lawmakers on that idea.

“These people are fatigued,” said Kasemeyer, D-Baltimore County.

Delegate Anthony O’Donnell, a Calvert County Republican who is the House minority leader, said taxpayers are tired of tax increases as well.

“I think our citizens are maxed out,” O’Donnell said.

Maryland’s Transportation Trust Fund has been in dire circumstances for years, and lawmakers have helped fill budget holes during the recession and its aftermath by steering money away from local transportation projects.  

Maryland’s 23.5 percent per-gallon gas tax was set in 1992.

Last year, Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, proposed phasing in a 6 percent sales tax on gasoline at 2 percent a year to raise roughly $613 million annually in new revenue. But the proposal never got traction.

Besides fatigue from recent tax increases, Kasemeyer noted that the state has been without a permanent transportation secretary since Beverley Swaim-Staley left in July.

“I think it’s going to be difficult,” Kasemeyer said about raising new revenues. “The main reason I think it’s going to be difficult is we really don’t have a secretary. We don’t have somebody who’s experienced and understands the issue, has the relationships to approach legislators, understand what they need and make the deal that has to be made to get what you want.”

Kasemeyer also said a comprehensive approach would be needed to truly address the problem, not just a measure that addresses the matter halfway.

“Nobody wants to go through that pain, politically, twice,” Kasemeyer said.

House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, and Stacy Mayer, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s new chief legislative officer, also were on the panel.

Busch kicked it off by showing how much Maryland’s population increased between 2000 and 2010, particularly in the suburbs of the nation’s capital where traffic congestion has become a concern to economic development.

The speaker said a major revenue increase for transportation would take nearly universal support from lawmakers who represent the state’s largest jurisdictions.

“We need to get to 71,” Busch said, referring to the number of votes needed to pass a bill in the House of Delegates. “You need everyone in Montgomery County. You need everyone in Prince George’s County. You need Baltimore city. You need part of Baltimore County, if you’re going to accomplish this.”

Mayer avoided mention of details by the executive branch to raise transportation revenue this session during her opening remarks, a point that was raised by Montgomery County Councilman George Leventhal, who asked about the omission during a question and answer period.

“We’re really, really looking to the governor and to the leadership on this issue,” Leventhal said.

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