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Md. Senator wants at least $400M more for transportation

Sen. Rob Garagiola, D-Montgomery, said Friday he’s working on a bill that would increase the state’s transportation funding by at least $400 million every year.

(Tip of the cap – as much as you can tip the beanie I’ve been wearing lately – to the Potomac Patch.)

The specifics are “still crystallizing” as Garagiola vets the proposals, he said.

“Just to keep up with maintenance and road repair and keep projects moving forward, we need an infusion of capital,” he said. “We can’t afford to wait.”

Garagiola said the state needs to make up the $350 million or so the recession has cost the Transportation Trust Fund. He said he’s aiming for between $400 million and $600 million in revenue with his bill, through a range of funding mechanisms.

Count on seeing a gas tax increase in there, though Garagiola said he’s not sure how much of a hike he will push for. That tax has not been raised since 1992, when it was set at 23.5 cents per gallon.

The bill could also feature a provision that would wall off transportation funds, preventing the fund transfers governors have used for decades to pay for new Medevac helicopters and balance the general fund budget.

With little appetite for tax increases this year, Garagiola has an uphill slog on his hands to get a bill like this passed. He’ll likely find a sympathetic ear in Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who has long advocated for a gas tax hike.

We may also see something along these lines from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding. (That group was created by a bill Garagiola introduced last year, by the way.) The issue is being watched closely by business groups, vocal supporters of a gas tax hike to keep the state’s transportation infrastructure in shape. Both Kathleen T. Snyder of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and Donald C. Fry of the Greater Baltimore Committee speak emphatically of the need for more transportation dollars on Thursday at a Maryland Economic Development Association conference.

“It’s not only saving our roads,” Garagiola said of the bill-in-progress, “I look at it as economic development.”