- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2000

Casper R. Taylor Jr., speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, says the state is making a mistake when it comes to transportation funding.

The state's $2 billion Transportation Trust Fund, which pays for the state's transportation needs from highways and mass transit to airports and the port, now comes primarily from Maryland's gas tax and the excise tax on motor vehicles.

While most of the funding is provided by the users of the highway system, more money is being paid out for mass transit than for highway maintenance and construction.

"Most states that have major mass-transit systems have long since created separate dedications to fund mass transit," Mr. Taylor in said an interview last week. "We've refused to do that, and I think it's a mistake."

So the Allegany County Democrat has introduced a bill that would take one penny of the existing 5-cent sales tax out of the revenues dedicated to the state's operating budget. That allocation, which would be phased in over a 10-year period, would generate $500 million and be put toward a mass-transit account within the Transportation Trust Fund.

Opposition to Mr. Taylor's bill is expected because there is reluctance, including some in the business community, to dedicate a portion of the sales tax. The Maryland Chamber of Commerce has not yet taken an official stand on the bill.

One transportation issue Mr. Taylor won't be dealing with this session is the controversial Intercounty Connector, the east-west road connecting Interstates 95 and 270 north of the Capital Beltway. Last year, Gov. Parris N. Glendening refused to build the ICC and wanted to sell off the middle portion of the corridor.

The business community, as well as many legislators like Mr. Taylor, think building the road is essential for the state. Threats of legislation that would stop the sale of the land were looming in the General Assembly, but the matter was cleared up earlier this month.

Mr. Taylor and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. halted the sale of the land through an agreement with the Montgomery County Council, which will take no action affecting the existing rights of way for the road, including selling off the land.

Question: If so many other states are using "separate dedications" to fund mass transit, why do you think some people are against your transportation bill?

Answer: I think the opposition is stemming from reluctance of making a systemic change in an old, well-established funding tradition.

Q: How do you deal with that?

A: I think by continued discussion and continued educational activity.

Q: Is your bill an alternative to a possible increase in the gas tax?

A: I guess the word "alternative" would apply. It needs to be clear that to meet the unmet needs Maryland will face in transportation, the gas tax is simply not adequate. Our unmet needs add up to $27 billion. There is no way we can ever raise the gas tax high enough to meet that need.

Q: Will an increase in the gas tax be an issue again in the General Assembly?

A: I don't think anyone will propose an increase in the gas tax for the remainder of this term in office. Our department and the governor have found ways to satisfy the system for at least the next three years. Beyond those three years we fall into a serious deficit problem meeting our transportation needs. A raise in the gas tax will not give us the solution.

Q: How do you feel about the governor's newest transportation proposal that would increase transportation spending by $2.7 billion over the next six years?

A: The six-year plan as it stands now is a very good six-year plan but that's not what we're facing. We're facing long-term planning and must face up to the fact that we are currently living with a funding strategy that will not work.

I'm trying to use this moment in our history to make this systemic change because it's the appropriate moment because of the new economy and new prosperity we're witnessing. We can make this systemic change without facing revenue increase in the immediate future.

Q: Where does the Intercounty Connector stand now? Is it on hold?

A: If you want to look at the ICC issue as a specific highway project then you can say it is on hold. I would rather say it this way: The governor is proposing not to stay on hold with various pieces of it. He is proposing moving forward with parts of the corridor and I applaud that. I think the agreement that President Miller and I accomplished with the Montgomery County Council creates a detente in the ongoing battle over the interior of that corridor. Therefore other than the projects on each end of the corridor nothing will happen for the remainder of this term in office.

We don't have a crystal ball to help us see beyond this term in office. In the meantime if we face up to our funding deficiencies for the future we can move forward with mass transit solutions not only in Montgomery County but throughout the state.

Q: Do you think your bill will pass?

A: I hope it will pass the House. And I hope it will create continued strategic exploration.

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