- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2011

WALDORF, Md. — Maryland transportation officials are recommending $520 million in tax and fee increases to fund road maintenance and improvements.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding on Thursday announced a list of potential hikes — from raising the state’s gas and property taxes to increasing several vehicle fees.

The state-appointed commission recommended earlier this year that Maryland find $800 million in new revenue for transportation and now says $520 million of that will likely come from the proposed increases, which could be enacted in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly’s upcoming regular session.

“This is an attempt now to focus on a specific financial recommendation,” said commission Chairman Gus Bauman.

The commission will discuss and could finalize a set of recommendations at its next meeting Sept. 27 in Frederick, he also said.

Maryland officials have already this year called for increased spending in roads and infrastructure to offset recent borrowing from the state’s Transportation Trust Fund for non-transportation use — about $2.1 billion in the past three years. The added funds also would help restore millions in cuts to road aid for local governments.

Commission officials initially recommended $800 million in new funding, but said Thursday that several fee increases passed during this year’s General Assembly session will generate $80 million of that revenue. Another $200 million will come from bond sales, public-private partnerships and other sources — leaving about $520 million that could come from new taxes and fees.

Dave Fleming, chief financial officer for the Maryland Department of Transportation, laid out a menu of potential increases that included raising the state’s 23.5-cents-a-gallon gas tax, applying a sales tax to gas, increasing fees on vehicle registration, titling and environmental inspections, increasing transit fares, applying a sales tax to vehicle-repair services and raisingproperty taxes across the state.

The commission will likely recommend just a few of the increases. Members discussed three basic options: raising the funds solely through increasing gas taxes, avoiding gas-tax increases entirely or using a combined approach.

Commission member and state Delegate Tawanna P. Gaines, Prince George’s Democrat, said a gas-tax increase is “essential” and would be the most efficient way of generating funds for state and local governments.

She said a gas-tax increase would come at the distribution level and that distributors could absorb a portion of the added cost rather than pass it on entirely to consumers. Other options include increasing the gas tax by 5 cents to 15.5-cents-a-gallon as well as imposing a new 1- to 6-percent sales tax on gas.

“We could phase it in. There are a variety of ways that it could be done,” Miss Gaines said. “If we’re looking for transportation funding, we should utilize things that impact transportation.”

A gas-tax increase is unlikely to go over well with consumers who are already paying nearly $4 a gallon at the pump, and state legislators have shelved plans to discuss such a proposal during this fall’s special session in part because of expected negative feedback.

However, commission members contended that transportation is a high priority among legislators and constituents, and that taxpayers could prove more willing to foot the bill if they are assured the money will go entirely to better roads and transportation.