ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley warned that failing to enact his gas tax proposal could mean added costs to the state and more traffic congestion.
O’Malley, a Democrat, testified before committees in the House of Delegates and Senate on Wednesday, asking lawmakers to sign off on his proposal to apply the state’s 6 percent sales tax to gasoline.
“The ever-growing congestion costs are the direct result of a declining revenue source — a flat, fixed-rate, per-gallon tax,” O’Malley told the House Environmental Matters and Ways and Means Committees. “We cannot maintain or build out a 21st century transportation system for a population our size with a level of investment that was fixed and set 20 years ago.”
The state’s 23.5 percent per-gallon gas tax was set in 1992.
His plan, which received an icy reception from some lawmakers, would increase the tax by 2 percentage points annually. The increase would be put on hold should gas prices spike more than 15 percent in a given year.
O’Malley said that without the tax, which is projected to generate about $613 million annually, critical transportation projects cannot be funded.
“There is clearly a cost to doing nothing in terms of jobs lost, business lost, family time lost,” state transportation secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley said. “All due to growing congestion.”
Raising the tax would also create 7,500 construction jobs and help to begin work on a number of local transportation projects including improvements to 106 Maryland bridges deemed in need of repair, O’Malley said.
The move could help reduce daily commute times for Marylanders, which at an average of 32 minutes, are the highest in the nation, he said.
Shortly before the hearings, several dozen opponents of the gas tax gathered in front of the State House to protest.
Members of Americans for Prosperity, a national group that advocates for limited government and free markets, said asking state residents to pay more for gas while the governor travels in state-owned vehicles smacks of inequities.
“This gas tax is so typical of the way Martin O’Malley and his administration have done business down here in Annapolis,” Dave Schwartz, Maryland State Director for AFP, said. “This is a governor who has asked us to sacrifice time and time again.”
The group has filed a Public Information Act to find out how much public money has been used to transport the governor, organizers said.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said Tuesday that he would prefer to wait to act on the tax increase until gas prices drop, speculating that the legislature could take up a transportation revenue package during a special session.
There will be limited appetite for a gas tax increase among lawmakers who will be wrestling with a proposed income tax hike to help cut an ongoing budget deficit in half, he said.
The Senate president has delayed action on the gas tax proposal and other O’Malley revenue initiatives until lawmakers work out the budget legislation. Those other proposals include an increase in the state’s “flush tax,” which is now a $30 annual charge on sewer bills to upgrade wastewater treatment facilities, and O’Malley’s offshore wind energy measure.