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Budget chair warns committee to keep open mind on transportation

Budget chair warns committee to keep open mind on transportation

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The chairwoman of the House of Delegates’ Ways and Means Committee told members Thursday to be ready to deal with legislation that could raise money for transportation, but cautioned she did not know what such a bill might look like.

“Whatever you’re hearing is not off the table,” Del. Sheila E. Hixson, D-Montgomery, told committee members during the House budget panel’s first meeting of 2013.

Gov. Martin O’Malley says he wants to raise between $700 and $800 million for transportation projects — such as the Red Line in Baltimore and Purple Line in Montgomery County — but has thus far only floated possible funding methods.

So far, he’s suggested a one cent increase in the state’s sales tax — which would be earmarked for transportation — or raising the gas tax, which has been 23.5 cents a gallon since 1992.

Hixson said members of her committee were in favor of a gas tax increase in 2012. But until a bill is presented — by the governor or someone else — she urged the panel to keep an open mind on how to raise money.

Republican lawmakers have suggested a regional transportation tax that would charge people in urban areas for mass transit projects, allowing proceeds from the gas tax to fund road maintenance. O’Malley has said he prefers a statewide model.

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