Plan Falls Short, Some Officials Say

Governor Rejects Calls for Higher Gas Tax Than Proposed

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 25, 2007; Page B02

Local political and business leaders from Maryland's Washington suburbs said yesterday that Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal to spend nearly $400 million a year more on transportation priorities was a good first step but that it would not be enough to address growing gridlock in the region.

Under the plan, the state would start pegging its gasoline tax to rising construction costs, a move expected to add 0.7 to 0.8 cents a gallon a year at the pump. But O'Malley balked at calls from several business groups, and from Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), for a much larger immediate increase in the gas tax, the largest source of funding of transportation projects.

Gov. Martin O'Malley calls for spending $400 million more on transportation. Montgomery Executive Isiah Leggett, in back, said the plan is a good start.
Gov. Martin O'Malley calls for spending $400 million more on transportation. Montgomery Executive Isiah Leggett, in back, said the plan is a good start. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

With bustling Interstate 270 as a backdrop, O'Malley (D) said his plan would "get Maryland back on the path of progress" after a strained transportation trust fund prevented state officials this year from adding projects to its long-range plan.

"We have been living on the investments our parents and grandparents made," O'Malley said at the formal announcement of his plan staged at a Gaithersburg park-and-ride lot.

Much of the funding in O'Malley's plan -- about $250 million a year, officials said -- would be used to keep pace with the growing maintenance needs of the state's transportation system, although some would be available for new projects, the details of which were not spelled out yesterday.

The new funding would come from a variety of sources, including an increase from 5 percent to 6 percent in the titling tax on vehicles and half the revenue generated by a proposed increase in the corporate income tax from 7 to 8 percent.

The other half of that revenue would go toward mitigating college tuition increases and upgrading higher education facilities, investments O'Malley called "intellectual infrastructure."

Proposals from others to increase the gas tax have ranged as high as adding 12 cents to the 23.5 cents-a-gallon tax, which would generate $400 million more annually for transportation projects.

Leggett, who congratulated O'Malley when he took his turn at the lectern, said in an interview that he considered the governor's $392 million-a-year proposal "a good start." Asked whether he continues to support an increase in the gas tax, Leggett said, "I think in time we will need to go back and look at that."

Georgette W. Godwin, president and chief executive officer of the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, was more direct, saying O'Malley's plan did not include enough money for new projects to ease congestion.

"We need increased capacity," Godwin said at the event. "That's what commerce needs."

O'Malley suggested yesterday that his move to forgo a significant increase in the gas tax was related to other steps he is proposing to close a $1.7 billion shortfall in the state's general fund.

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