ANNAPOLIS -- Numerous local leaders in Maryland clamored Wednesday for an increase in the state's gas tax, sales tax or tolls to pay for the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to pay for transit and road improvements.
The state needs hundreds of millions annually to build the planned Purple and Red lines -- light-rail systems planned for Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and Baltimore, respectively -- peaking at $820 million needed for construction in fiscal 2017, according to data from state legislative analysts. Maryland currently has none of the $4.8 billion needed to build the two projects.
If Maryland hopes to secure federal funding for the light-rail lines through the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program, state officials need to demonstrate how the state plans to pay its share -- likely more than 50 percent of each -- by the summer.
And to complicate matters further, Maryland is expected to run out of money after fiscal 2017 to maintain existing transit and highways, warned Warren Deschenaux, director of the legislature's Office of Policy Analysis. "The condition of our transportation trust fund is indeed quite dire."
At a Wednesday transportation conference, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett called state lawmakers' failure to pass any of the multiple proposed tax hikes that would have generated revenue for the state's transportation trust fund "one of the greatest failures of the last session."
Leggett, with Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker and Charles County Board of Commissioners President Candice Quinn Kelly, called on the governor and state lawmakers to pass a new tax during the legislative term that begins Jan. 9.
"This is the year. If we don't get it done this year, we may not get it done for the next eight years," Baker warned, referring to the likely political gridlock that comes with 2014 being an election year and a new governor taking office in 2015.
But several state lawmakers have warned that the support for a new tax increase just isn't there.
Raising the gas tax is simply "not a popular thing to do," House of Delegates Majority Leader Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery County, said this week.
House Speaker Michael Busch said he will remain silent on whether he supports a gas tax increase until after Congress finishes its "fiscal cliff" negotiations.
"I think everyone understands there's great need out there," he added.