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Virginia roads plan puts pressure on Maryland to reach funding deal

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Photo - Graeme Jennings/Examiner File
Virginia's passage of a $880 million plan to fund transportation projects is putting major pressure on Maryland to find a way to raise revenue for transportation work.
Graeme Jennings/Examiner File Virginia's passage of a $880 million plan to fund transportation projects is putting major pressure on Maryland to find a way to raise revenue for transportation work.
Local,Maryland,Andy Brownfield,Metro and Traffic

Virginia's passage of a $880 million plan to fund transportation projects puts pressure on Maryland to also find a way to raise revenue for transportation projects, insiders say.

The Maryland Legislature's top fiscal analyst, Warren Deschenaux, said Virginia's passage of a transportation package last weekend will increase interest in getting a package passed in Maryland.

Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O'Malley, said Virginia's deal might make a funding package easier to get through the Maryland General Assembly.

"Maybe if some in the legislature see there's a will to get things done, that might influence them," she said.

With Maryland's 90-day legislative session past its halfway point, the state's ruling Democrats have made much talk about providing much-needed revenue for transportation projects -- the Transportation Trust Fund is slated to go bankrupt by 2018 and doesn't have any money for new projects -- but there has been scant action.

Virginia's deal "helps again light the fire," Montgomery County chief lobbyist Melanie Wenger told County Council members Monday. "It's the time to get this done."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's and Calvert counties, has introduced a sweeping plan, but he has said O'Malley needs to take leadership before any plan advances.

Miller's plan would apply a 3 percent sales tax to the currently exempt sale of gasoline, give counties the power to raise the statewide 23.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax by up to 5 cents, and create two regional authorities in Baltimore and the D.C. suburbs that would have the power to raise property taxes.

The sales tax on Maryland gasoline would raise about $300 million annually. It's not clear how much the county gas taxes or regional taxing authorities would raise.

Experts and analysts agree, though, that Maryland needs $600 million to $700 million annually to fund its transportation projects.

Across the Potomac, Virginia lawmakers decided to scrap the state's 17.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax and replace it with a 3.5 percent wholesale tax on motor fuels and a 6 percent tax on diesel.

While Virginia will lose money in the short term, the state is expected to raise $880 million per year within five years.

Any Maryland proposal will run into opposition in the House, where rural delegates worry that their constituents will be paying for suburban mass transit that they will never use, such as the proposed Purple and Red light rail lines.

Montgomery County Council Vice President Craig Rice said he addressed those concerns when Republican state leaders visited the county, telling them his constituents paid for a Bay Bridge they never use.

To help deal with House opposition, President Obama's deputy transportation secretary -- and former state transportation secretary -- John D. Porcari is scheduled to speak to the House on Tuesday.

abrownfield@washingtonexaminer.com

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