Letting Maryland counties raise gas tax may be option

On Miller’s transportation fix ‘menu’

ANNAPOLIS — County governments in Maryland could raise up to 5 cents per gallon on gas sales for local transportation projects, under the latest proposal made Thursday by the state Senate president on how to raise badly needed money for transportation.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has been pitching various proposals this week for raising more revenue for roads, bridges and transit projects. He said the latest idea would enable counties to levy up to 5 cents per gallon on top of the state’s 23.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax, which hasn’t been increased since 1992.

Earlier this week, the Prince George’s Democrat suggested lawmakers consider a separate 3 percent sales tax on gas statewide to raise roughly $300 million. The longtime Senate president also recommended the state consider selling or leasing the Intercounty Connector, part of which is now open. Another proposal would set up local transit authorities that could raise revenue for rail projects.

Mr. Miller, who has been leading a push to address the difficult challenge of transportation funding, said the proposals will be in a bill he expects to be introduced next week.

“It’s a menu,” Mr. Miller said in a brief interview Thursday afternoon. “Maybe one will sail. Maybe four parts will sail or maybe none of it will sail.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley has expressed interest in raising new revenues for transportation in the past. Last year, Mr. O’Malley pushed to phase in a 6 percent sales tax on gasoline, but the idea did not get any traction in a legislative session when other tax increases were under consideration and gas prices were high. Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, has held discussions with legislative leaders about how to proceed this year, but he has not yet elaborated on any specifics.

Mr. Miller said Thursday he prefers the idea of selling or leasing the Intercounty Connector, an 18-mile toll road that connects Interstate 95 in Prince George’s County with Interstate 270 in Montgomery County. That could free up a couple of billion dollars in debt that could be used for other projects and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in cash, Mr. Miller said.

The state is facing a major backlog in transportation projects that are in large demand as residents face heavily congested roads, particularly in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, near the nation’s capital.

Across the Potomac River, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, wants to eliminate the state’s 17.5-cent per gallon gas tax and replace it with a sales tax increase of less than a penny on the dollar.

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