Miller transportation plan would allow Maryland counties to levy a gas tax


Maryland Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller r. addresses the chamber last year. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
January 24, 2013

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. on Thursday advertised another wrinkle in his forthcoming transportation funding plan: allowing counties to impose a local gas tax.

Miller (D-Calvert) told reporters that under his legislation, expected next week, the state would authorize counties to collect up to 5 cents per gallon for local transportation projects. The statewide gas tax is 23.5 cents per gallon, a levy unchanged since 1992.

Miller shared other provisions of his plan in an interview this week with The Washington Post. Those include levying a 3 percent sales tax on gas in addition to the per-gallon gas tax; and creating regional authorities with the ability to raise property taxes to help pay for rail projects.

Miller also suggested a long-term lease of the $2.6 billion Intercounty Connector to a private operator to generate immediate cash for other Maryland transportation priorities.

“The governor congratulated me on moving the issue forward,” Miller said, adding that he is eager to hear which parts of his plan Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) will support.

Last year, O’Malley pitched a plan to levy a 6 percent sales tax on gas purchases that gained no traction in the Senate or House. He said this week that he will look at Miller’s plan and that he has not ruled out sponsoring his own transportation bill during the current 90-day legislative session.

Miller said he expects to attract some Republican support for his plan in the Senate and acknowledged it will be a “tougher sell” in the House.

A statewide poll released this week found that while the vast majority of voters say it is important to maintain and improve Maryland’s transportation system, few are eager to pay for it.

Only 26 percent said they favor a 10-cent increase in the state’s gas tax, while 73 percent opposed it in the poll by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies.

Miller said he has heard concerns, from Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and others, that his plan does not raise enough money.

Legislative analysts estimate that the sales tax provision would generate more than $300 million a year in new revenue. The revenue raised by the other provisions would depend on the ambitions of local officials. O’Malley’s plan last year was estimated to generate more than $600 million a year.

After 2017, state analysts say Maryland will only have enough transportation money to pay for maintenance of the existing system. There is no new money available for construction of new roads or mass transit projects, including the Purple Line in the Washington region and the Red Line in Baltimore.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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