Perhaps inspried by his counterpart on the south side of the Potomac, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has proposed a gas tax trade-off aimed at generating $3.4 billion for the state’s road and light rail projects.
Similar in several respects to the compromise funding plan forged by Virginia legislators and Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) last month, O’Malley’s strategy adds a 4 percent tax to wholesale gasoline, offset in part by a 5-cent reduction in the state’s gas tax, which has stood at 23.5 cents per gallon since 1992. In addition, the resulting per-gallon tax would be indexed to inflation.
O’Malley hopes to emulate McDonnell in finding a means for preventing the depletion of state road funds by 2017. Though the Virginia plan combines a reformulated tax structure plus a variety of fees and other revenue enhancement mechanisms, McDonnell’s initial proposal called for eliminating the per-gallon levy altogether. Concerns about the resulting over-reliance on the state’s general fund for transportation funding, plus some legislative intrigue, led to the resulting compromise that may well prove to be the signature achievement of the term-limited governor, despite criticism from those opposed to tax increases.
Unlike Virginia’s divided legislature, Maryland’s General Assembly is dominated by Democrats. However, it seems certain O’Malley’s proposal will encounter the usual hurdles associated with enacting any kind of tax increase, including one that results in a nine-cent increase in gas prices over the next two years.
Other long-term funding ideas have been floated in Maryland, including one offered by State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. (D), that would authorize regional authorities to raise money for major rail lines, and allow counties to impose their own gas taxes up to 5 cents for local projects.
With more than a month remaining in the 2013 session of Maryland’s General Assembly, literally anything could happen to O’Malley’s proposal, resulting in an outcome similar to McDonnell’s plan—or something entirely different. What is certain is that legislators will have plenty to talk about over the next few weeks.