Mike Miller: Up to Martin O'Malley to choose how to fund transportation

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Local,Maryland,Transportation,Andy Brownfield

ANNAPOLIS - The leader of Maryland's Senate introduced a plan to provide much-needed funding for the state's transportation projects -- but he wants to see action from Gov. Martin O'Malley before his proposal goes anywhere.

"Nothing's going to happen unless the governor takes the lead on this issue," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's and Calvert counties, told reporters Tuesday.

"What I've given the governor is a menu," he said.

Miller introduced proposals Monday night that would place a 3 percent sales tax on gasoline, raising prices at the pump 5 cents per gallon, along with a bevy of other possible revenue-raising measures.

O'Malley used part of his annual State of the State speech Jan. 30 to talk about Maryland's "worst traffic congestion in the country" and the need for money for the near-bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund but offered no details.

An O'Malley spokeswoman said the governor's chief of staff and legislative aides have had meetings with their counterparts in the offices of Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch, D-Anne Arundel County. She said the discussions are ongoing.

Maryland's Transportation Trust Fund pays for road and bridge maintenance, as well as other projects such as light rail, including the proposed Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. The fund has enough money to pay only for current maintenance and is projected to run out of cash by 2018.

O'Malley has talked about indexing the state's gas tax -- flat at 23.5 cents per gallon since 1992 -- to inflation or increasing the 6 percent sales tax by 1 percentage point to raise money for transportation projects. Both would raise about $700 million. The governor hasn't introduced a proposal this session.

Miller's bill would increase all taxes on gas to an effective 28.5 cents per gallon. That means a person with a 20-gallon tank paying the statewide average of $3.573 per gallon (according to auto club AAA) would pay an extra $1 to fill up. That would raise about $300 million.

Miller's proposal also would allow counties to increase their local gas taxes up to 5 cents per gallon and would allow for the creation of two Transit Benefit Districts around the Washington suburbs and Baltimore that could increase property taxes.

Miller said it's up to O'Malley to choose what he wants to do.

"I'm not the governor of the state," he said. "I don't want to be the governor of the state. I have a hard enough time being president of the Senate."

abrownfield@washingtonexaminer.com

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