O'Malley Gets Earful Over Gas Sales Tax Plan

Governor defends plan before House, Senate committees

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    Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley spent the day in front of lawmakers in Annapolis pushing his plan to apply the state sales tax to gasoline, and he got an earful from lawmakers who expressed worries about the proposal.

    Before both House and Senate committees, O'Malley defended his plan as not the most popular, but as necessary to fund road and mass transit projects in a state the governor said now has the longest average daily commute in the nation.

    "A couple of days ago, I was talking to a businessman from southern Maryland," O'Malley said. "And he said to me 'Governor, I'm against all taxes. But we pay for that, too.'"

    O'Malley went back to that point several times as he pushed for approval of the new gas tax to lawmakers who are very wary of constituents who have loudly protested the plan. The most vocal concern is that if the tax is approved, there are no guarantees that the money will actually be spent on transportation -- as the transportation trust fund has been raided in the past. O'Malley said he would support any number of ways to ensure that, even a constitutional amendment.

    Republican Delegate Ron George, of Anne Arundel County, took a different tack in opposing the plan.

    "There's a lot of perception issues that the public has about a disconnect between their government, the spending, and what they're going through," he said. "As you say, sharing the pain."

    George suggested O'Malley "share the pain" with citizens by cutting his staff, or at least their salaries. O'Malley did not respond to George's statement.

    Another concern is that, since Maryland is a small state, it's not difficult for drivers to go out of state to get gas. Republican Delegate Kathryn Afzali, of Frederick County, said her constituents will do just that.

    "My district borders three states: Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia," she said. "And I have people in my community saying that they will go fill up their trucks and their vehicles in Pennsylvania."

    Others criticized the plan for focusing too much of the new revenue from the tax on mass transit, as the overwhelming majority of state residents commute by driving.

    Complete story at wamu.org

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