A Frederick County lawmaker said he will introduce a bill that would give Maryland’s counties and municipalities the authority to increase the gasoline tax in their own jurisdictions to raise money for needed transportation improvements.
Sen. Ron Young (D-Dist. 3) of Frederick said his bill would allow local governments to raise the gasoline tax only on service stations located within their boundaries. The money raised could only go to transportation projects in those jurisdictions, under the measure.
“The bill would raise the gasoline tax 2 cents per dollar,” Young said. “It’s enabling legislation. If they don’t want to do it, they don’t have to.”
Maryland has not raised its 23.5 cents-per-gallon gas tax since 1992. Gov. Martin O’Malley proposed adding the state’s 6 cents sales tax to gasoline during last year’s General Assembly session, but the proposal stalled.
O’Malley has said it could come up again during the current legislative session, which began on Jan. 9. The money raised would go to transportation projects statewide.
Maryland legislators, along with elected officials in Frederick County, have made no secret that funding for transportation projects, such as highway improvements, transit and rail, is desperately needed.
Money to pay for such projects has typically come from the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, created in 1971 to establish a dedicated funding source for transportation needs.
The money in the fund comes from gasoline taxes, motor vehicle registrations, titles and licenses, the federal government, corporate income taxes, transit fares, and port and airport fees.
But for several years, money from the fund has been used by state lawmakers to balance the state’s budget, leaving fewer dollars for transportation.
Sen. David Brinkley (R-Dist. 4) of New Market has said he will introduce a bill during this 90-day session that would put a “wall” around the Transportation Trust Fund to prevent it from being used to balance the state’s budget.
Jack Cahalan, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation, told The Gazette in November that the state has no money for new highway projects. And, painting a bleak picture of the state’s transportation funding woes, Cahalan said it is unlikely that money would be available anytime soon.
He said it is unlikely that Frederick County would get the $169 million local officials have requested for the major road projects they want included in the Maryland Consolidated Transportation Program, a construction budget that outlines funding for roads across the state.
Those funding requests include $13.8 million to purchase 35 acres of land and another $68.5 million for the construction of a new interchange at U.S. 15 and Monocacy Boulevard in Frederick; $1 million for the construction of a $30.9 million interchange at Interstate 70 and Meadow Road in Frederick; and $4.9 million to design the widening of Md. 85, known as Buckeystown Pike, south of Crestwood Boulevard to English Muffin Way in Frederick to a four-lane highway.
The General Assembly will review the entire state’s construction budget this session, voting on which projects will be funded.
The debate over transportation funding comes as Frederick County’s population and traffic are all expected to increase, according to the state transportation department.
From 2013 to 2040, the county’s population is expected to increase by 38 percent, but its job growth is projected to only increase by 16 percent, according to a study released in November by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, a group of elected officials that plans transportation improvements in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.
That means that the 110,200 vehicles that currently travel down I-270 transporting county residents to jobs in Montgomery County, Washington D.C., and Virginia, will only increase in number.
Young said his bill would at least enable jurisdictions to raise money to improve their own roads.
“It addresses the people’s needs in that jurisdiction and the [traffic] gridlock,” he said.
County elected officials are not ready to support the bill, however.
“I understand his perspective and what he is trying to do,” Frederick County Board of Commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young (R) said of his father’s bill. “But it would be hard for any elected official to increase the gas tax, especially when 40 percent of the workforce in Frederick County is getting jobs out of the county.”
In fact, the commissioners have submitted a position statement to the eight-member local legislative delegation opposing an increase to Maryland’s gasoline tax.
The commissioners are concerned that if the bill is passed, the additional money generated would go to other state funding needs, instead of transportation projects.
Young said what the county needs is more jobs for residents, so that fewer people have to commute to find work.
“Transportation has been a major issue, and we should have been doing something earlier,” he said. “You can’t borrow from Peter to pay Paul. [The state] should not have been raiding the Transportation Trust Fund. We need to make sure the county is getting its fair share of the funding.”
Frederick city officials are also skeptical of Young’s bill.
“I’m interested to see the specifics,” Frederick Mayor Randy McClement (R) said. “It’s a different idea. I know part of it is that people are screaming about more transportation money, but we don’t want to tax our people. But it’s an interesting idea.”
Alderman Carol Krimm (D) , a member of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, said the state needs to consider all options, including Young’s bill.
“I certainly don’t want to deny any path,” Krimm said. “We need to have a full discussion of all ideas, because transportation funding is so important.”
Krimm has already proposed bus-only shoulders along I-270 to help relieve traffic congestion.
In September, her colleagues on the transportation planning board agreed to form a task force to study the feasibility of allowing the shoulders to run from Frederick to Montgomery counties.
The task force is also looking at putting bus shoulders on portions of the Capital Beltway and Interstate 95.