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Md. Senate moves Hogan’s budget, eyes his agenda

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

ANNAPOLIS — An effort by Gov. Larry Hogan to eliminate automatic increases in the state gas tax may not be dead but there is a catch.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. told reporters that the Senate may yet look at ways of passing some of Hogan’s priorities on the same day that the Senate voted 47-0 to give preliminary approval to the governor’s $40.4 billion budget.

“We’re an overwhelmingly Democratic Senate and House,” Miller said. “The governor has worked with us remarkably well in moving forward a Democratic agenda especially on health care, especially on community colleges, especially on Medicaid workers. The remarkable progress we made during the previous eight years is going to continue.

“This governor also has a legislative agenda, and we want to make certain that the agenda that he has in terms of moving our state forward is addressed as well,” Miller said.

The state budget, which already has passed the House of Delegates, restores scaled back education funding in Hogan’s initial proposal in January, as well as a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment for state employees.In recent weeks a number of Hogan’s initiatives have been defeated in committee or held.

Hogan’s signature bill to repeal the so-called rain tax was killed in committee, but the Senate passed a version sponsored by Miller that looked a lot like the governor’s bill but contained additional reporting and oversight for counties that opt to not charge the fee for projects that would reduce stormwater-related pollution to the Chesapeake Bay.

“We’ve passed the rain tax unanimously,” Miller said. “We’re working hard to move his bill on charter schools forward. We’re working hard to move his bill on personal property tax exemptions forward.”

One of the items Miller said might not be dead is Hogan’s effort to eliminate some of the automatic increases on the state’s gas tax. The governor proposed to eliminate the automatic increases thus requiring the legislature to vote for future increases. That bill remains in committee.

“We’re also going to be looking at downsizing, not completely eliminating, the indexing on the gasoline tax but downsizing it so it could only possibly be increased by a small amount each year,” Miller said.

But the reduction, if passed, won’t likely put additional money in the pockets of Maryland motorists.

In 2013, the legislature passed an increase in the fuel tax that included an automatic escalator based on the rate of inflation. The law capped those increases at 8 percent inflation.

“The indexing, the reality is the inflation rate hasn’t been that great,” said Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, D-Howard and Baltimore Counties and the chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. “Our concern is the cap right now is 8 percent on the CPI. It looks to me bad. We’re going to try to put that down to 2 or 3 (percent).”

Kasemeyer said the change wouldn’t affect revenue to the state.

“Not in the short term,” Kasemeyer said.