- - Thursday, December 27, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — An increase in gas taxes, a repeal of the death penalty and a renewed discussion of liability for pit-bull owners are some of the issues currently on the table for Maryland’s 2013 legislative session.

In addition, the recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., have prompted Gov. Martin O'Malley and others to promise gun-control legislation in the upcoming session.

However, with the ongoing “fiscal cliff” discussions in Washington threatening to dramatically affect taxes and the economy, plans for the 2013 session in Maryland may be severely altered, depending on the outcome.

Maryland has a huge public-sector workforce and is home to a multitude of government agencies and military operations. Any cutbacks in government spending or closure of government agencies would dramatically hurt the state.

Delegate Kathleen Dumais, vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said that should the fiscal cliff be avoided, one of the most important issues in 2013 would be the proposed increase in gas taxes to generate funding for transportation projects.

“We have to somehow address transportation funding,” Ms. Dumais, Montgomery Democrat, said.

The lawmaker said that she, together with the rest of the Montgomery County delegation, has supported raising taxes on gas, even if just by one penny, in order to generate desperately needed revenue. However, she thinks a bill proposing a statewide raise would face challenges because of the disparity between rural and urban areas.

The “Montgomery County delegation has been, generally speaking, willing to do that and vote for that. But it’s more controversial in other areas of the state,” Ms. Dumais said. “But I understand when you’re in a rural area, and you have to drive farther just for groceries … it is sort of a different equation for a rural community than for a community like Rockville.”

Delegate Kathy Afzali, Frederick Republican, represents a county with many rural communities like those Ms. Dumais described and is adamantly against any increase in gas taxes.

“For me, in Frederick County, it’s particularly troublesome because I border three other states. … [It is] very easy for people to purchase their gas out of state,” she said.

The proposed increase in gas taxes is part of what Ms. Afzali calls “a war on rural Maryland,” and she said it would hurt middle-class families already struggling to make ends meet.

“It’s extremely discouraging,” she said. “I will be on the front lines fighting that.”

Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said that because of Maryland’s bad, and worsening, traffic conditions, the General Assembly has to come up with more funding for transportation projects.

“We have a situation where if we don’t start addressing the problems sooner rather than later, you’re going to have tremendous gridlock, and that’s going to effectively impact economic growth,” said Mr. Fry, a former member of both the Maryland House and Senate.

A “perennial hot-button issue,” the death penalty, is also expected to make an appearance in 2013, said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery Democrat.

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