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Senate panel hears hours of testimony on a bill going nowhere

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, testified on behalf of his transportation financing bill Wednesday, but it’s not clear whether the hearing will lead to any action by the General Assembly.

Miller has said his bill is going nowhere and is nothing more than a menu of options from which he hopes Gov. Martin O’Malley will choose. Without the governor’s direct involvement, Miller has said, no transportation proposal will clear the legislature.

But that didn’t stop a parade of advocates and critics eager to testify on the financing bill and a companion proposal that would make it more difficult for the governor to swipe money from the Transportation Trust Fund for other uses.

Many business groups — especially those representing construction trades — support raising taxes to pay for transportation projects. Other business groups — especially those in the trucking or fuel industries — say a gas tax hike would make it more expensive to do business, forcing them to pass those costs to customers.

The only issue most appear to agree on is that transportation money should be put into some kind of protective “lock box” — but some Republicans in the House of Delegates said Tuesday that Miller’s lock box proposal does too little to prevent tampering.

If legislators want to reach a grand bargain that would increase transportation revenue to pay for mass transit, roads, highways and bridges, they’re running out of time. Friday will mark the halfway point of the 90-day General Assembly session, and number of contentious bills — including a death penalty repeal and a gun control package — are awaiting final action. O’Malley’s budget proposal must also still be approved.

Onlookers say lawmakers are closer to making a move on transportation than they were this time last year. But it’s up for debate whether a financing package will actually be debated by the House and Senate in 2013.