- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — The General Assembly is working to finalize a set of income-tax increases in the session’s final days, but that’s not the only tax talk going on in the state capital.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said Wednesday that he is open to reviving a much-maligned proposal to raise the state’s gas tax and could push for an increase before the assembly’s scheduled adjournment Monday.

The proposal was put forward in February by Gov. Martin O’Malley as a way to fund road and transit improvements, but it has appeared for weeks to be a long-shot because of resistance from legislators and the public dealing with rising gas prices.

Mr. Miller, Prince George’s Democrat, said that he is uncertain whether there will be enough votes to pass an increase in either chamber, but that he thinks new revenue is desperately needed for infrastructure. He said he will push for it this session or possibly in a special session later this year.

“It doesn’t poll well. It never will poll well,” he said. “But it’s not about a popularity contest, it’s about trying to do right by the people in the state.”

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, is also holding out hope for an additional tax to raise money for roads and infrastructure and has in recent days floated a possible 1 cent increase on the sales tax as an alternative to raising the gas tax.

While both proposals appear to face long odds this session, the assembly is putting the finishing touches on a budget package that already will include income-tax increases.

The Senate and House are expected to resume work Thursday on finalizing the state’s $35.9 billion spending plan, but the chambers remain especially far apart on exactly how to raise state income taxes.

A conference committee is tentatively scheduled to pick up negotiations Thursday after canceling discussion on Tuesday and Wednesday because the sides were so far apart.

The Senate is pushing for a tax-rate increase on virtually all taxpayers, while the House wants to limit increases to single residents earning $100,000 or more and couples making $150,000 and up.

House members say their proposal is fairer to low-income and middle-class residents struggling to get by, while Senate members say their plan would raise more revenue and trim the state’s structural deficit by asking most taxpayers to pay their fair share.

“I’m fine with saying that the rich, by being rich, are going to pay more,” said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., Montgomery Democrat. “But we need a fair and balanced approach that says everyone benefits, everyone has a stake and everyone should share in the responsibility.”

Mr. Madaleno said the competing tax proposals are the main stumbling block remaining as House and Senate negotiators try to hammer out a final budget by Monday.

While Democrats, who are in the majority, say their goal is to better fund education and public services, both chambers’ plans have been scorned by Republicans, who say the state should work to keep year-to-year spending flat.

“Marylanders don’t want higher taxes,” said Delegate Glen Glass, Harford Republican. “Level funding would have been a good way to go, but increasing the budget is an economy killer.”