Drives against gas taxes start running on empty

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“They aren’t out here like I am seeing the customers pay with change and buy $5 of gas until they get their paycheck,” said Mr. Madsen, who helped circulate an anti-tax petition in Maryland last spring. “These guys are out of touch.”

Other routes

With tax hikes under heavy scrutiny, many states have looked for alternative means to raise transportation revenues and cut expenses.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, said last week that he will propose legislation next year to pay for $2.5 billion in road and bridge repairs. A commission recommended last year that the state fund the repairs by increasing vehicle registration and driver’s license fees and by lifting the limit on a tax paid by fuel distributors.

This month, Virginia opened electronic toll lanes on Interstate 495 that were built through a public-private partnership. The state had to pay $409 million for the $1.9 billion project, while most of the toll revenues will go to the two companies that footed the remainder of the bill.

“The cost of projects is getting to the point where it is very difficult for the public sector to fund and manage them,” said Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton. “Public-private partnerships will become the norm for all large projects in Virginia and across the country.”

In 2007, Oregon became the first state to conduct a pilot program looking at a vehicle-miles-traveled tax, which would tax drivers on distance traveled rather than gas consumption as a way to ensure revenue despite the rise in fuel-efficient cars and electric vehicles. State analysts determined that such a tax could prove effective, but Oregon and other states have been reluctant to adopt it because of concerns that it could disproportionately hurt low-income residents with longer commutes and intrude on drivers’ privacy by collecting their mileage data.

Siphoning funds

In some states, the issue at hand is not just a matter of boosting transportation revenue but also is about making sure that the funds go to their intended purposes.

Maryland lawmakers have exacerbated their state’s infrastructure woes by raiding the state’s Transportation Trust Fund.

Over the past decade, $1.1 billion in transportation funds initially intended for local governments to use on roads and bridges has been put into the state’s general fund to help balance the budget.

Last year, Mr. Bauman’s commission proposed that lawmakers pass a constitutional amendment or other legislation that would bar such transfers except in cases of emergency and overwhelming legislative approval.

“The citizens of Maryland anticipate that the money is only used for transportation purposes, and that is not what has been happening,” Mr. Bauman said.

California’s voters approved a similar constitutional amendment in 2010 barring the state from diverting local transportation funds for other purposes.

Maryland Delegate Sheila E. Hixson, Montgomery Democrat and chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which vets tax proposals, said she plans to meet next month with officials from the governor’s office to discuss legislation.

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