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Maryland Governor Releases Transportation Funding Bill

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    Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley on Monday night released a proposal that includes an increase in overall gasoline taxes and other measures to raise hundreds of millions of dollars annually in new money for transportation.

    O'Malley, a Democrat, outlined the plan with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, and House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, at a news conference. With the presiding officers in his corner, O'Malley stands a strong chance of ushering the measure through the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

    The plan would apply a new sales tax on gasoline, starting at 2 percent in July. It would rise to 4 percent in July 2014. It also would reduce the current excise tax on a gallon of gas by 5 cents, from 23.5 cents to 18.5 cents. The plan would then index the excise tax to the consumer price index to adjust for inflation.

    By fiscal year 2018, the plan would generate an estimated $833 million in new funding for transportation, once new bonding capacity created by the additional revenues is added into the mix. Overall, in a five-year period, the O'Malley administration estimates the plan would create $3.4 billion for Maryland highway and transit projects.

    Maryland has not raised its gas tax since 1993, and supporters are quick to point to its steep drop in buying power over two decades. Supporters of raising more revenue also underscore that this is the year to act -- since next year will be an election year when it will be harder to approve a tax increase.

    O'Malley said building a 21st century transportation network won't happen by itself.

    “This plan will help us generate the revenue we need to ease some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation while building and repairing our transportation infrastructure,” O'Malley said.

    Busch said the proposal was the result of weeks of talks between O'Malley's office and the presiding officers.

    “We must make strategic investments and leverage private dollars to move our state forward,” Busch said. “A strong transportation system is the cornerstone of a strong economy.”

    Miller, who put forward a proposal of his own weeks ago and has been pushing for the governor to put his stamp on a plan, noted that the state's Transportation Trust Fund is about to go broke.

    O'Malley, who proposed phasing in a 6 percent sales tax on gasoline last year only to see it stall, wanted to reach a consensus between the state's top lawmakers before announcing a proposal.

    “Working together and reaching the consensus reflected in the proposal is a tremendous step forward that can turn our transportation crisis around,” Miller said.

    The plan also would index Maryland Transit Authority fares to the consumer price index. The plan includes providing a portion of the money raised by implementation of the federal Marketplace Equity Act, which would enable states to apply the sales tax to Internet sales. However, it's unclear if Congress will pass the measure. If it is not enacted, the governor's bill provides for increasing the sales tax another 2 percent from 4 percent to 6 percent.

    The plan follows approval last month of a sweeping, long-term overhaul to neighboring Virginia's system for funding repairs. Backed by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, it represented the largest tax increase to clear Virginia's Legislature since 2004.