As promised, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) used the start of the legislature’s special session on redistricting Monday to begin talking about jobs, and offered more clarity about suggestions he’s made since August that he would support higher taxes to boost spending on public infrastructure.
O’Malley said the General Assembly must begin considering a 15-cent increase to Maryland’s gas tax to fund road construction, public transit and other transportation projects. The governor also suggested he would seek an unspecified expansion to the state’s capital budget to fund school construction and other infrastructure needs when the General Assembly convenes in January.
Asked how Maryland could afford that given that the General Assembly had to decrease capital spending this year because the state is nearing its debt limit, O’Malley, said simply, more “revenue”
“There’s been a lot of debate in these times of austerity and scarcity about less, less, less and cut, cut, cut,” O’Malley said. “But it’s not a Democratic idea or a Republican idea that in order to create jobs, a modern economy requires modern investments. I think the question we need to ask one another is what are we willing to do to get people back to work more quickly,” O’Malley said.
If O’Malley thows his full support behind a broad tax increase, such as a higher gas tax, it would put him at odds with most other Democratic leaders nationally who have been increasingly cautious about increasing costs on middle and low-income families as the economy continues to sputter. Whether or not he pursues such an effort, his mention of it is likely to make him a bigger target for Republicans as he seeks to campaign for fellow Democratic governors up for re-election this year.
O’Malley went so far as to suggest taxes were needed as compassion to create jobs for the unemployed. Sacrifices, he added, would be needed from everyone to help improve the economy and country’s future.
“We suffer as a nation from a tremendous investment deficit. We also suffer from a compassion and understanding deficit. But staying focusing on jobs, we suffer from an investment deficit,” he said.
“What we have to figure out is whether we are willing to pay another penny in order to bring those things about, or another nickel, or another dime, or as Gus Bauman and his commission is recommending, another 15 cents,” O’Malley said, referencing the chair of the state’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding, who on Tuesday is expected to testify in favor of raising the state’s gas tax to keep its underfunded transportation trust fund solvent.
Maryland currently ranks 27th nationally with a 23.5-cent gas tax, according to the non-profit Tax Foundation. The District’s rate is the same. Virginia ranks 40th with total gas taxes of 19.7 cents.
O’Malley also said he was initiating a 60-day review of all state regulations to see if any duplicate or burdensome ones could be eliminated to help speed economic recovery in the state, where although lower than the national average, the unemployment rate has inched up to 7.3 percent.