Transit groups push for gas tax increase in expected special session

Local,Maryland,Transportation,Hayley Peterson

Maryland transportation advocates are urging state lawmakers to increase the gasoline tax during a likely special legislative session on gambling next month.

"Maryland motorists have been getting a cheaper and cheaper ride since 1992, the last time the gas tax was raised," said Ralph Bennett, the president of Purple Line NOW!, a group that supports the state's planned 16-mile light rail connecting Bethesda and New Carrollton. "Now is the time to add a small amount to the price of gas to fund the transit projects and roads all Marylanders need."

Maryland's waning transportation revenues are jeopardizing the state's mass transit projects, as well as delaying long-overdue road and bridge repairs, according to a state-appointed transportation commission. The state has been compounding the revenue loss by draining money from local transportation coffers for unrelated projects, creating a $12 billion backlog of local transportation needs.

Purple Line NOW! and four other groups have written a letter to all Maryland lawmakers demanding they address the funding shortfall in July, if they convene for a special session to consider an expansion of gambling in the state. Other groups that signed the letter include the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance, Red Line Now, the Corridor Cities Transitway Coalition and the Action Committee for Transit.

But lawmakers have tried every year to raise new revenues for transportation and so far have been unsuccessful. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley in January proposed applying a 6 percent sales tax on gas, which never made it out of committee for a vote. Others have long proposed raising the state's 23.5-cent-per-gallon flat tax on fuel.

However the funds are raised, the General Assembly can't delay road and bridge repair any longer, said Sen. James C. Rosapepe, D-Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties.

"We have the worst traffic in the United States in the Washington area, and we have the second worst traffic in the country in the Baltimore area," Rosapepe said. "That's ridiculous. That holds back our economic growth, it's a burden on the taxpayers and we need to step up our game."

O'Malley hasn't said yet whether he will call a special session. If he does, there would be no better time to reinvest in transportation, Rosapepe said.

"There are a lot more people concerned about traffic jams than about gambling," Rosapepe said. "I know the governor wants to address it, and I know the president of the Senate wants to address it, and this is a good time to do it because [transportation projects] create jobs and we need jobs."

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