UNLIKE THEIR COUNTERPARTS in Virginia, Maryland's legislators begin their session in Annapolis today with some money to burn and the possibility of some traditional political coalitions disintegrating in battles over transportation needs. Gov. Harry Hughes has a state surplus to parcel out, which is bound to produce pressures from all around the state for the financing of everything of everything but transportation -- which depends on special transportation taxes such as the gasoline tax. The solution may rest in some form of rebate to taxpayers, coupled with an increase in the gasoline tax for essential transportation projects.
Under consideration is a change in the gasoline tax, now 9 cents a gallon, that would mean a minimum increase this year of a penny a gallon and increases later that would be pegged to inflation.The money raised would then be used to pay for highway construction and -- here's where an old alliance could be strained -- for subway financing in the Washington and Baltimore areas. A special executive-legislative transportation subcommittee, which has studied this issue for nearly a year, is recommending that the state pick up 100 percent of the local costs of Metro construction and 75 percent of the operating deficits; localities could then raise their 25 percent share if they were given authority to impose a local general sales tax for transportation purposes.
This arrangement would equalize state payments that currently cover 100 percent of the Baltimore subway's annual operating deficit but only 40 percent of the Montgomery-Prince George's share of Metro. But just how eager Baltimore's lawmakers will be to accept it remains a wide open question.
Still other potentially divisive pressures may stem from the allocation of school aid. Under one subcommittee plan, Prince George's would net $9.9 million in additional school aid -- while wealthier Montgomery County would receive only an extra $104,000. Meanwhile, Baltimore County would get an additional $13 millions. This formula isn't likely to be swallowed calmly in Annapolis.
As in Richmond, the situation in Annapolis calls for a new measure of leadership from a governor who has yet to show much executive muscle.