Gas tax passes in Senate -- Gazette.Net


The Maryland Senate voted Friday to raise taxes on gas, setting up a possible 21-cent increase by 2018.

The chamber did not make any changes to the bill that came out of the House, so the bill will go directly to the governor’s desk.

The bill — the product of a compromise between Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist 26) of Chesapeake Beach and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis — puts a sales tax of up to 5 percent on the wholesale price of gasoline and indexes the current 23.5 cent excise tax to inflation.

Hikes in the gas tax will come incrementally, with 1 percent going into effect in July 2013.

All Montgomery County senators voted for the bill.

Senate Democrats struck down 13 proposed amendments to the bill, many of them to designate portions of the revenue for roadway improvements.

Rural legislators have contended that too much of the state’s transportation dollars have gone to mass transit projects, while only 8 percent of Marylanders use public transportation, yet more projects are planned, like the light-rail Purple Line from Bethesda to New Carrollton and the Red Line in Baltimore.

Three amendments were withdrawn, including one from Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin (R-Dist. 36) of Elkton, that would have renamed the bill “Gas Tax and Job Killing Act of 2013.”

Proponents of the bill said that increasing funds for transportation is a matter of competition; by decreasing congestion and providing infrastructure for businesses, Maryland will remain competitive with Virginia, which also passed transportation funding legislation this year. Opponents claim that more Marylanders will go to neighboring states for their fuel.

“It’s just crazy to say that this differential is not going to make a difference,” Pipkin said, referring to the difference in gas-tax rates between Maryland and its neighbors.

A constitutional amendment that also passed the chamber would strengthen the proposed “lockbox” provision, prohibiting the governor from moving transportation funds to other programs or parts of the budget. Under the proposal, which has not yet been discussed in the House, the two chambers would have to approve a diversion of transportation funds by a three-fifths majority vote.

A constitutional amendment requires voter approval.