Ari Ashe, wtop.com
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – With the clock ticking for reaching a deal on transportation funding, lawmakers in Annapolis heard testimony Wednesday on Senate President Mike Miller’s proposal to add a 3 percent sales tax on gas and to allow local counties to raise the gas tax to 5 percent.
Among those who testified were Montgomery County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker.
“I think his proposal is a good start,” Leggett says. “We have a healthy debate going on. We’ve seen what’s happened in Virginia. As a result, I am more optimistic of getting a statewide bill.”
At the testimony, Baker stressed the need for the money.
“Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and Baltimore City all need that funding now,” Baker says.
Gasoline is currently exempt from Maryland sales tax, but the proposal wants this rule to expire. It hopes to use the money to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund, which is used for road improvements, buses and rail projects, such as the Purple Line.
“For us, having funding for Purple Line transit stations – which are economic hubs – will help us see commercial growth in Prince George’s County,” Baker says.
Leggett has also been vocal about the importance of the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway in keeping Montgomery County economically competitive.
The Maryland Department of Transportation reports the fund will go bankrupt by 2018 without action from Annapolis.
The proposed bill also calls for a study on leasing out the Intercounty Connector, although some transportation experts don’t consider that a likely option.
Miller considers his proposal a “menu of options,” which both Leggett and Baker say are necessary to strike a deal that works for everyone.
“In Montgomery County, we have somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 jobs that may be affected by our inability to have transportation options,” says Leggett.
However, a new report out from Americans for Prosperity Maryland and the Sage Policy Group finds that Miller’s proposal would cost Maryland 959 jobs and $124.4 million in economic activity.
“It is impossible to know the impact of transportation investment on the state’s economy without having a better sense of how additional monies would ultimately be spent and where,” the report states. “What one does know for certain is that Maryland’s households would have less money to spend on items such as groceries, retail items, personal services, home improvements and vacations.”
As an alternative to the gas tax, the authors of the report suggest Maryland consider higher tolls while also adding high occupancy toll lanes, similar to the I-495 Express Lanes in Virginia. The report also suggests that Maryland consider increasing vehicle registration fees to bring in more transportation revenue.
In addition, a 2011 Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding in Maryland recommends higher tolls and raising registration fees.
However, Gus Bauman, who chaired the Commission, says tolls and fees won’t raise nearly enough money on its own to make an impact on replenishing the Transportation Trust Fund.