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Legislative panels hear calls for rise in Maryland gas taxes

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ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown asked the General Assembly on Tuesday to consider a gas-tax increase during next year's regular session, and legislators acknowledged that support is likely increasing for a 15-cents-a-gallon hike.

Mr. Brown, a Democrat, was joined in testifying in support of transportation-revenue increases by state Transportation Secretary Beverly K. Swaim-Staley and other state and business leaders at a joint hearing of the House Appropriations and House Ways and Means committees.

They said an increase on the state's 23.5 cents-a-gallon tax rate is needed to generate revenue to pay for infrastructure projects that could create jobs and draw new businesses to the state.

 

A state-appointed transportation committee has recommended that the state find $800 million in new revenue for transportation and could recommend a 15-cents-a-gallon increase on the gas tax that would be phased in over three years.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, said Monday he would consider such an increase as part of a legislative package in next year's General Assembly session to boost infrastructure and revenues.

"Our budget is smaller today than it was five years ago," Mr. Brown said. "We subscribe to investments in infrastructure. It helps build out our communities and puts people to work right away."

Maryland has not increased its gas tax since 1992, and supporters of an increase say it will help to increase lagging revenues, improve roads and potentially save drivers money in the long run by reducing traffic and shortening travel times.

"We've got to step up and do something about" the lack of revenues and infrastructure, said Delegate C. William Frick, Montgomery Democrat. Mr. Frick is vice chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which would have to approve the tax increase before it could go to the House floor.

"It's always a tough sell to raise taxes," Mr. Frick continued. "But we have a real need here, and I think the governor is going to try to do something about it in the regular session."

Legislators have acknowledged that many constituents are reluctant to accept a gas-tax increase, but they and state officials have become increasingly open to the idea in recent months, as the state faces a likely $1 billion budget shortfall next year.

More than 100 protesters gathered Tuesday at a tea party rally in Annapolis to speak out against a possible gas-tax increase and to protest the redistricting process in the Democrat-controlled state.

The rally was organized by Delegate Michael D. Smigiel Sr., Cecil Republican, who was among several speakers who blasted state officials for considering an increase, which he said would further burden residents.

"They've had enough money," said Alice Sealing, a Queen Anne's County resident who attended the rally. "The money they've been given hasn't been spent properly. We have been taxed enough."

The General Assembly is expected to consider a gas-tax increase when it convenes for its regular session in January.

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