Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner wants the state to give county lawmakers authority to raise gas taxes, since the state legislature is unlikely to agree to such a tax in the face of sky-high prices at the pump.
"I've been a strong proponent of an increase in the statewide gas tax, but if Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore or other communities don't share that desire and we can't get that to pass, then I see no reason why Montgomery County shouldn't be able to go forward and have a gas tax of comparable nature," Berliner, D-Bethesda, told reporters.
Transportation advocates have pushed for an increase to fund projects like the Purple Line light rail and the Corridor Cities Transitway, a rapid bus line that would run from the Shady Grove Metro station to the Comsat facility near Clarksburg.
But some in Montgomery County believe their tax burden is high enough already. "Whenever I hear the word tax -- I know it's a three letter word, but for me it sounds like a four letter word," said Joan Fidler, president of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League. "Have we looked enough at the savings we could get from cutting back certain expenses? ... We've been taxed enough by the state."
Last year, a state panel commissioned to find ways to fund the $800 million needed for transportation projects each year recommended a 5-cent increase in the gas tax each year for three years. Then during the spring legislative session Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley backed a 6 percent sales tax on gasoline, but the measure didn't have enough support to pass. Maryland already has 23.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax, which has stayed the same since 1992. That is the same rate as D.C. but a few cents higher than Virginia's gas tax of 19.8 cents per gallon.
Unlike a statewide tax, a county tax would allow Montgomery to keep all of the revenue, Berliner said.
While a county gas tax would not be ideal because it could push drivers to buy their gas in Howard or Prince George's counties or in the District, "enabling legislation that allowed our county to make that kind of analysis, in my judgment, is absolutely called for," Berliner said.
He also suggested that, if a gas tax doesn't make sense, a countywide sales tax to fund transportation might.
"I feel very badly for the county. The county has been relying on state government to provide money to fix their roads and fix their bridges," said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson, who sat on the state panel that recommended the 5-cent gas tax increase. "It's clear that transportation needs more revenue, and there's no easy answer.
"Motorists don't want a gas tax increase," Anderson said. "But they do want better transportation, safer roads and bridges and less congestion."