WASHINGTON – Next month, Maryland lawmakers will return to Annapolis to begin the 2013 General Assembly. One issue that could come up is transportation funding.
The Maryland Transportation Trust Fund, which funds projects across the state, is dangerously low and could run out in the next several years.
Lawmakers have raided the fund several times throughout the years to balance the budget and cover other expenses.
“There is no money to build or expand any roads, highways, transitways. Nothing. They barely have enough money to maintain what they’ve got,” says Gus Bauman, who chaired a Blue Ribbon Commission on the issue in 2011.
The Maryland State Highway Authority says it has enough money for now, but won’t be able to do much after 2018 unless there’s new transportation funding.
The Commission recommended $800 million in annual funding, coming from a higher gas tax, increased tolls and fares on roads, trains and buses as well as higher fees for vehicle registration, licensing and titling.
The proposal also called for an amendment to the Maryland Constitution that would make it illegal for legislators to raid the Transportation Trust Fund in the future.
“With that guarantee, I’m absolutely convinced that people would be willing to pay another nickle, as long as they know it will go to pay to fix this road in this county,” says Bauman.
For example, Bauman points to the Purple Line, completing BRAC transportation improvements in Bethesda and easing congestion along 270 and the Capital Beltway as projects that could be completed with new funding.
However, lawmakers in Annapolis rejected the idea earlier this year.
Gov. Martin O’Malley told reporters earlier in December that he was frustrated at the lack of progress, and hoped there would be political will to re-introduce and pass new transportation funding in 2013.
“I’ve heard a lot of lip service given by elected leaders of Maryland that this is the time to do it. But, I’ve heard that for so many years,” says Bauman.
But not everyone likes the idea, including Lon Anderson of AAA Mid-Atlantic, who also served on the Commission.
Anderson says the gas tax puts the burden on drivers and would encourage them to fill up in Virginia.
He also disagrees with higher tolls, fares and MVA fees.
For his part, Bauman says a higher gas tax wouldn’t necessarily mean gas prices would go up more than a couple cents.
“Pricing includes so many variables at the pump, and the tax is only one variable,” says Bauman.
Maryland hasn’t raised the 23.5 cent gas tax since 1992.