POLITICS

O'Malley suggests increasing sales tax to pay for roads

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Politics,Local,Maryland,Hayley Peterson

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley suggested raising the state's 6 percent sales tax another cent if the extra revenues are dedicated to Maryland's transportation needs.

"We have the ninth lowest sales tax in the country," O'Malley told The Washington Examiner in an interview. "So raising that sales tax by a penny and dedicating [the revenue] to transportation funding -- if the legislature and the president of the Senate and speaker of the House think that is an easier lift, I'm open to that."

O'Malley, a Democrat, said lawmakers must find a way to raise new transportation revenues before the session ends Monday night.

Support is waning for O'Malley's proposal to phase in a 6 percent sales tax on the cost of gasoline, which would eventually add about 18-cents-per-gallon, O'Malley noted.

He first suggested raising the sales tax to 7 percent in January, but Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. called it a "nonstarter."

"There's no tax that's more unpopular than the gas tax," O'Malley said. His proposal would raise more than $600 million annually for the state's ballooning laundry list of transportation projects needing funding.

With gas prices soaring to record highs, O'Malley has struggled to gain support for his proposal, even among Democrats -- including Sen. Rob Garagiola, the Senate's top Democrat, who last year sponsored a similar bill that would raise the gas tax.

Lawmakers have proposed delaying the first installment of the phase-in to help the legislation gain some political consensus.

O'Malley said he would support the change, but admitted that a 1-cent increase to the state's sales tax might be more politically viable.

"I'm very flexible," he said.

The alternative to raising more revenue for transportation would be crumbling roads and bridge closures, he added.

"What I know, though -- and this is the dreadful knowledge that comes with my [job] -- I know very clearly that in the years ahead if we don't do something [to raise revenue for transportation], we will have to close bridges," O'Malley said.

hpeterson@washingtonexaminer.com

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