By The Associated Press
9:31 PM EST, January 19, 2012
Shaking gas cans with only a dime inside, members of a coalition backing new revenues for transportation rallied in front of the State House Thursday to launch a tough battle for tax increases.
Representatives from the Greater Baltimore Committee, the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce participated in a rally that drew Democrats and Republicans.
Former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, a Democrat, said securing revenue for roads is critical to the state's economic future and to improve quality of life in areas suffocating from some of the worst congestion in the nation.
"There are tremendous needs out there that aren't being met, and economic growth is being stifled because we haven't met those needs," said Duncan, who chairs the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance.
Former Maryland Republican Party Chairwoman Audrey Scott also attended, agreeing with other supporters that infrastructure is the key to economic growth and jobs. Scott also accentuated the need to safeguard transportation money, which too often has been tapped by governors from several administrations to plug other budget holes.
"They can't raid the money that's coming into the Transportation Trust Fund," Scott said. "It's got to be there for transportation needs."
Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, is expected to make an announcement in the next few weeks about what his plans will be for transportation revenue.
The 23.5-cent gas tax was last raised in 1992.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, has expressed support for a gas tax increase, and he believes he could get a proposal through the Senate this year. However, he told reporters it will be a challenging task.
"I think it's going to pass the Senate, but it's going to be a tough sell," Miller said. "It certainly is going to be a tough sell in the House."
Maryland is facing a tremendous backlog in transportation projects. It would cost about $12 billion just to fund the top priority project in each county and the city of Baltimore.
In October, a state commission recommended raising more than $800 million in new transportation revenue annually. It proposed raising the state's gas tax by 15 cents over three years, 5 cents each year. After the third year, the tax would be indexed to the Construction Cost Index to keep up with inflation.
The panel also recommended a 50 percent increase in vehicle registration fees. Another proposal would either increase the vehicle titling tax from 6 percent to 6.5 percent or eliminate trade-in allowances.