- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. pitched his controversial “menu” of transportation proposals to a Senate committee this week, urging that at least some of it be adopted but saying he wasn’t wedded to any one provision.
Miller (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach told members of the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee that he hoped to raise about $500 million for transportation projects by one means or another.
Miller was joined Wednesday by Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D), who spoke of the critical need for increased transportation funding in their jurisdictions.
Prince George’s is not only looking to build a major casino and resort but wants to attract the FBI to move its new headquarters to the county, Baker said. The infrastructure that is needed to support those efforts couldn’t be funded by the county alone, he said.
Miller’s proposal includes a 3 percent sales tax on the wholesale cost of gasoline, an additional 5-cent-per-gallon tax that could go the counties, and the creation of up to two regional transit authorities that would have the power to raise property taxes in the Washington and Baltimore metropolitan regions to fund mass transit.
Miller also has proposed putting the state’s Transportation Trust Fund in a “lockbox,” so the money could only be transferred to other projects if the governor declared a state of emergency and three-fifths of each legislative chamber agreed.
But opponents argued that the amendment doesn’t go far enough.
“[The] lockbox only gets us halfway there,” said Nick Loffer, grass-roots director for Americans For Prosperity Maryland, a conservative advocacy group. While it may restrict diverting funds from transportation in general, it offered no guarantee that money for road repair wouldn’t be diverted to fund transit projects.
Critics of the state’s current funding system, including lawmakers from rural parts of the state, argue that the taxpayers who don’t use mass transit shouldn’t be paying for expensive new transit projects, such as the proposed Purple Line light rail for the Washington suburbs and the Red Line for the Baltimore area, projected to cost about $5 billion combined.
Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington struck back at that argument during the hearing.
“[Do you] think that I, as a driver, do not get a benefit on the road from every person [using] mass transit?” Madaleno asked Loffer.
Miller’s proposal also drew fire from a number of service station owners, who worried that any new tax on gasoline would be bad for business.
Corky Calhoun, vice president of Marketing for the Capitol Petroleum Group, warned the committee that such an increase would put Maryland retailers at a competitive disadvantage and send customers into Washington, D.C., or Virginia to fill their tanks.
Miller, who has been prodding Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and House leadership to support some transportation plan, has said he hopes lawmakers will take action but isn’t optimistic.
“Its not a popular issue,” he told reporters. “People have to be pulled, [dragged], forced to take a position on this issue. I've put it out there, and I hope somebody bites and says, ‘Let's move forward.’”