Opinion

Examiner Local Editorial: Maryland gas tax bill is deja vu

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Opinion,Local Editorial

Last Friday, Maryland's House of Delegates voted to ratchet up the state's current 23.5-cent gas tax until it nearly doubles by 2016, except in the event that Congress passes an Internet sales tax. So Gov. Martin O'Malley may soon get another chance to squeeze blood from the turnip that his state is becoming.

The group Change Maryland has compiled the only comprehensive list of tax increases enacted under the O'Malley administration, based on data from the Department of Legislative Services, executive branch budgets and fiscal impact information from bills. The nonpartisan advocacy group documented an eye-popping 32 tax increases totaling more than $2.3 billion since 2007, including "fee increases on literally all aspects of human life" from birth to death certificates. Virtually all activity in Maryland that can be taxed already is, but O'Malley still wants more.

Last year, the General Assembly refused to do the governor's bidding on the gas tax, and opponents' arguments from that debate remain valid. A higher gas tax will hit low-income workers the hardest, costing two-car families more than $400 per year more when fully implemented. It will still increase the cost of groceries and other shipped goods. And at roughly $10,000 per driver (when sharp toll increases that went into effect this year are factored in), Maryland will still have the highest fuel and vehicle registration rates for tractor-trailers in the region. This threatens the viability of in-state trucking companies.

A $4.4 billion gas tax increase is a bitter pill for Maryland drivers to swallow, particularly since more than half the additional revenue will not be spent improving the state's roads and bridges, but to pay for the still-unfunded Purple Line (Montgomery) and Red Line (Baltimore) light rail projects. Maryland already spends twice as much on mass transit as it does on roads, even though transit is used by just 8 percent of all Maryland commuters. This will make the imbalance even worse.

This bill will just increase the current misallocation precisely when other states are looking for other revenue sources to replace the gas tax, a diminishing source of highway revenue thanks to inflation and better fuel efficiency. This will only accelerate when new federal Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency, or CAFE, standards go into effect in 2017.

But O'Malley's real goal is not to modernize the state's road network for the 87 percent of Maryland residents who drive. It's to force them to subsidize the small but vocal minority that doesn't drive.

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