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Proposal to increase gas tax sparks backlash

Needed funds could come from boost in sales tax

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 10, 2011

ANNAPOLIS — A Maryland delegate said Tuesday that legislators might have to raise the state sales tax instead of going ahead with an unpopular proposal to increase the tax on gasoline.

Delegate Carolyn J.B. Howard, a Prince George's Democrat, made the statement during a meeting of a state transportation funding commission, explaining that she and other legislators have received backlash over a proposal to increase the state's 23.5-cents-a-gallon gas tax.

The proposal is one of many being considered to help generate $800 million in new revenue for transportation projects. The General Assembly could discuss several new taxes this fall during a special congressional redistricting session.

Ms. Howard, one of the commission's 28 members, said many constituents have complained that they are already too heavily burdened by gas prices that now exceed $4 a gallon.

"It's not being received as well as we wanted," she said. "When you talk to people in the community — they say it's not the time."

The transportation commission — consisting of agency directors, local officials, private stakeholders and four state legislators — has been charged with finding ways to generate revenue for needed road enhancements and transit projects, as well as to restore the state's depleted Transportation Trust Fund.

Additional revenue would largely come from tax increases. And several proposals are on the table, including two that would directly affect the price of gas — a 10-cents-a-gallon increase on the gas tax, or a 6 percent sales tax on gas.

Legislators have argued the current gas tax, unchanged since 1992, has proven less and less revenue generating as consumers buy more fuel-efficient cars and resort to mass transit.

If legislators opt not to increase the gas tax, they will likely have to increase or expand the statewide sales tax, said Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat.

The Assembly last increased the sales tax during a 2007 special session, from 5 percent to 6 percent.

Current proposals include raising the sales tax by as much as 1 percentage point or broadening the existing rate to apply to many services that were formerly unaffected.

While business leaders have urged lawmakers to postpone any tax debate until their regular Assembly session in January, Mr. McFadden said they will almost certainly discuss new taxes during the special session.

He and other commission members said tax increases could prove more tolerable to Marylanders if the added revenue goes to roads and transit programs, which studies show they are more willing to pay than general government spending.

"I think the needs far outweigh the concerns the public will have," said Mr. McFadden, vice chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "We have to clearly show how this money will be expended — to improve our transportation infrastructure."

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