A House committee is sending an amended version of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s transportation proposal to the floor this week.
The Ways and Means Committee voted 15-4 along party lines Monday to approve the bill, after altering the way the proposal will raise revenue and the speed at which taxes will be hiked.
The House proposal keeps the current 23.5-cent-per-gallon excise tax. The governor’s version dropped that tax to 18.5 cents.
The House version gradually adds a sales tax on wholesale gas sales, reaching 3 percent in July 2015. There currently is no state sales tax on gasoline.
The first tax increase, of 1 percent, would go into effect July 2013, resulting in an additional 3.8 cents per gallon of gasoline.
Another 1 percent increase would come in January 2015, then again in July 2015.
Finally, there would be 1 percent increases in January and July 2016 — reaching 5 percent — if Congress doesn’t pass a measure to let states collect sales tax on Internet sales.
If Congress does pass such a measure, as many states have been encouraging, a portion of those revenues would go to the transportation fund, and the gas tax would not increase in 2016.
The original proposal, backed by O’Malley (D), House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach, would have applied a 2 percent tax in July, resulting in an additional 2 cents per gallon at the pump, and a 4 percent tax in 2014, resulting in an additional 7 cents at the pump.
The amended version is expected to raise about the same amount of money — $3.4 billion throughout six years — as the governor’s plan would have raised.
House Majority Leader Del. Kumar P. Barve (D-Dist. 17) of Gaithersburg called the committee’s version a simpler, more gradual plan than the governor’s.
“I know that we’re in competition with Virginia, and that includes competition over how quickly you can get to a meeting, how quickly you can move from point A to point B,” said Barve, highlighting the reasons to pass the bill.
In the future, the excise tax on gas will be indexed to inflation, which will prevent the problem the state is facing now, administration officials said, in which the purchasing power of the 24.5-cent-per-gallon tax had gone down during the past 20 years.
Republicans on the committee introduced amendments that would have capped how much that index could increase the tax each year, but their proposals failed.
“We know we need revenue — there is no argument there,” said Del. Andrew A. Serafini (R-Dist 2A) of Hagerstown, warning his colleagues of the possibility of a spike in gas prices that could lead to a major increase in the Consumer Price Index. “But how can we protect consumers from a short-term jolt?”
Capping the annual increase to 1 cent per gallon or 1 percent — as amendments offered by Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. (R-Dist. 1C) of Clear Spring proposed — would have significantly limited the amount of money the changes could raise.
“This would dramatically reduce the package,” Barve said of the amendments.
The House proposal keeps in place a “lockbox” provision, which will require the governor to declare an emergency and get approval from three-fifths of committee members to move transportation funds to other parts of the budget.
Without a tax increase, the state will run out of money for new projects by 2017, and all revenue for transportation will have to go toward maintenance, leaving nothing for new projects, according to state analysts.
In 2011, a state Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding recommended that the state raise an additional $870 million each year to meet the state’s transportation needs.