Cumberland Times-News

March 17, 2013

Some rural Democrats join GOP in opposing O’Malley’s gas plan

Amber Larkins
Capital News Service

— ANNAPOLIS — It’s not just anti-tax Republicans who are opposed to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s recently unveiled gas tax plan: the governor also faces opposition from some rural Democrats who say their constituents would pay more and not get many benefits.

The gas tax is the largest source of revenue for the Transportation Trust Fund, which is used for transportation infrastructure projects. The fund does not have enough money to continue supporting existing infrastructure, let alone new roads, bridges and mass transit systems.

O’Malley proposed the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013, which would decrease the gas tax on consumers by 5 cents to 18.5 cents per gallon July 1. In its place, O’Malley’s plan would tack on a wholesale gas tax of 4 percent to be phased in over the next two years.

The plan is expected to bring in an additional $3.4 billion of revenue over the next five years.

But Democrats like Delegate John Wood Jr. of St. Mary’s County say their constituents have to drive more than those in more urban areas.

“Sometimes, your next-door neighbor is five miles down the road. We have to get in our trucks and drive,” Wood said.

He wants the state to wait until next year to do anything about transportation, and instead to put money back into the Transportation Trust Fund. Over the years, money from the fund has been used to plug holes in the state’s budget.

“If the state would put back what they owe, we could probably squeak by,” Wood said.

Wood said O’Malley’s plan would hurt rather than help Maryland generate more transportation funding be-cause Marylanders would likely buy their gas and do most of their spending in Virginia or another border state.

“We come up suffering,” Wood said.

Sen. Roy P. Dyson, D-St. Mary’s, is also against O’Malley’s plan.

Dyson’s district has been especially hard hit by the federal sequester because of budget cuts at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, and military employees facing furloughs.   To hit them with a gas tax now would be a “double whammy,” Dyson said. “It doesn’t serve my constituents at all.”

Other rural Democrats said this was not an equitable solution to the transportation funding problem because their constituents tend to commute long distances for work, and the price of their goods would go up because of the rise in gas prices.

Republicans don’t like the Transportation Act, either.

Delegate Herb McMillan, R-Anne Arundel, described the plan as a Trojan horse that raises and perpetuates the gas tax without protecting the funds. He is worried because gas tax rates would never go down even if inflation decreased, which means the tax rate would only go up over time.

The tax would be indexed to inflation. If inflation increased, the tax would increase, but if inflation decreased or stayed the same, the tax rate would remain static.