Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

150 rally at State House for higher gas tax

ANNAPOLIS — More than 150 people braved the cold Thursday afternoon to gather in front of the State House and urge lawmakers to raise their taxes.

The coalition of business leaders, transportation advocates, union officials and construction workers called for the state to raise more money to spend on roads, bridges, trains and other transportation projects, which they say will create jobs and make Maryland more attractive to businesses.

“You only have to look across the Potomac River to notice that Virginia has about $6 billion in projects going,” said Lon Anderson, director of public and government information for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “We need to spend on transportation if we’re going to stay competitive.”

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding wrote in its November report that the state needs to add $800 million to its yearly capital budget of about $2 billion. Top legislators and business leaders have said $500 million is a more likely target.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, is expected to announce his transportation funding plan this month.

“We’re ejecting money out of our tailpipes that could be used to build these roads and bridges and transit systems,” said Tim Butera, business development manager of the Mid-Atlantic Laborers’ Cooperation Trust.

The rally came on the heels of a poll released Wednesday that found widespread opposition to raising the state’s gas tax by a dime.

The tax has not been raised since 1992, when lawmakers set it at 23.5 cents per gallon.

The poll found that 76 percent of registered voters oppose a 10-cent increase, according to the poll conducted for the Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Distributors Association by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies Inc.

A gas tax hike was viewed favorably by 23.1 percent.

Even less popular was the prospect of lawmakers setting up automatic increases to the tax by indexing it to inflation.

Some 96 percent opposed that idea, and only 3 percent supported it.

The telephone poll of 808 registered voters was conducted from Jan. 9-15. The margin of error is 3.5 percent.

Asked about the results, Greater Baltimore Committee President and CEO Donald C. Fry said “We can’t afford to wait another year.”

“Gas taxes are never going to poll well,” said Fry, one of the state’s leading transportation advocates. “There is no good time to raise the gas tax. If there was, the legislature would have found one some time over the last 20 years.”

Leaders at the rally also called for lawmakers to protect transportation dollars from budget raids.

“We need to restore trust in the [Transportation] Trust Fund,” said Kathleen T. Snyder, president and CEO of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

Governors have for decades turned to the trust fund to patch shortfalls in the state’s operating budget.

“We have to put a lock on it, or at least make it the last place, not the first place, the governor looks to balance the budget,” said James A. Russ, president of the Maryland Transportation Builders and Materials Association.

“If we don’t get this done, I don’t know where we’re going,” said Russ. “Maybe we’ll lock the gates on Maryland and let ’em go around.”