As reported in the Washington Post, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley recently renewed his commitment to introduce a transportation funding bill in this session of the Maryland General Assembly. This is very good news. Transportation advocates have been pushing for an increase of $850 million or more, consistent with the recommendations of an earlier Blue Ribbon Commission report for several years, to address the precipitous decline in transportation investment that has occurred over the past two decades.
Governor O’Malley correctly assessed the situation when he said: “Doing nothing doesn’t seem to be a responsible option.” He is absolutely right and Maryland legislators need to acknowledge this fact and act this year. There will not be another opportunity, with statewide elections looming in 2014.
Maryland’s transportation system is in critical condition right now, with deteriorating roads and bridges and the nation’s worst traffic congestion in the Washington region. Failure to act this legislative session will bring dire consequences for our local economy. Without a major infusion of capital funding, traffic conditions will soon reach a breaking point. Given the continued weakness in the state’s economy, and the inability to attract new jobs to key areas in the state without providing additional transportation capacity, this is the single most important thing on the legislature’s agenda this year because investing in transportation means jobs, jobs, jobs.
Recent polls by the Washington Post and others show that, on the surface, raising the gas tax appears to be unpopular, as is the case with most other taxes. However, these polls do not go beyond the surface level to ask if support would increase if the legislature also added a “lock box” to protect the Transportation Trust Fund from future raids, and if voters knew a 10-cent gas tax increase would cost each resident an average of $50 per year, far less than the wasted fuel and other costs each of us is currently paying due to congestion and poor road conditions — a staggering $1,500 per resident per year in Maryland, which is a direct result of continued failure to invest in key transportation improvements. When given these two pieces of information, support for a 10-cent increase soars in more detailed polling at the state and national level. Voters want more investment in transportation, and when they hear the case being made they find it persuasive.
Let’s face it, there is never an easy time to raise revenues from any source, but the gas tax has not been adjusted since 1992 and has lost more than half its value to inflation. Maryland residents are paying less now in gas taxes in real dollars than they did in the 1970s, and current funding levels are simply no longer economicially sustainable, so now is as good a time as any to bite the bullet and do what they know is right. Without an increase this year, major projects like the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway, or much needed improvements to Route 4, Route 5, I-270 and hundreds of others SIMPLY CANNOT MOVE FORWARD.
It’s time to raise the gas tax and index it to inflation now!
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