The Governor has expressed support of a 18.5 cents/gal. to 21.5cents/gal. to 27.5 cent/gal. sales tax increase per gallon depending on whether gasoline prices are $3.50. $4 or $5 per gallon (all three with 4l.9 cents of federal and state gasoline taxes included in the price/gallon.) The State Senate Majority Leader Garagiola, who has been the lead sponsor of gasoline tax increase legislation and who is now worried about his Democratic Primary, now says he will support an increase smaller than the Governor suggests.
Maryland's transportation appropriations for operating purposes declined from $3.64 billion in FY 2006 to $3.47 billion in FY 2012 while Maryland's health and mental hygiene appropriations for operating purposes jumped more than 50% from $6.33 billion to $9.73 billion during the same period. Human Resources appropriations leaped more than 61% from $1.62 billion to $$2.61 billion. Primary and secondary education appropriations escalated 35% from $5.11 billion to $6.90 billion. Appropriations for the entire operating budget increased 32.4% from $25.79 billion to $34.145 billion.
So obviously transportation wasn't a priority or transportation funds were raided for other purposes. Both are true. Close to $1 billion was removed from transportation to the general fund during this time.
Pennsylvania had an operating budget of $27.l billion in FY 2012, or about $ 7 billion less than Maryland while Maryland with 5.7 million people had a population less than half of Pennsylvania's 12.6 million people. Maryland has about 5,000 more full-time employees than Pennsylvania. Why can't we use some of the money Maryland is overspending in other areas for transportation?
At about $3.70 cents/gal., gasoline prices are already higher than they have ever been at this time of year. Almost everyone is predicting that gasoline, without this huge proposed sales tax increase will this year top the all-time high average price of $4.11 in July, 2008.
Just this past year the budget included a large increase in the state alcohol tax that was supposed to go to the handicapped, but did not. It included new infusions of slots money. The budget of local jurisdictions included speed camera revenues from local government cameras on state roads. But the local governments say the cameras were not put up for the revenue. Why can't the aforementioned alcohol, slots and speed camera funds go to state transportation? When the Governor and Garagiola raised sales tax 20%, corporate tax 18% and top income tax bracket 52.6% from 2007-2008, why didn't we use that money for transportation?
Both the gasoline and sales tax are highly regressive, meaning that the lower incomes use a far higher percentage of their income for transportation than higher incomes. If sales taxes are put on gasoline, the lower incomes will find it more financially challenging to get to their jobs while polls show that adding jobs is a high priority.
Now about half of the state's transportation budget goes to mass transit. A sales gasoline tax on the 93% of workers who use the roads to get to work and on the 100% of Maryland freight that moves by road instead of mass transit to pay for the Red Line in Baltimore and the Purple Line inside the Beltway would further exacerbate the inequity of using road travelers as an ATM to pay for mass transit. This money is not going to extending the Red Line to Montgomery Village and Germantown, which I favor.
A fairer solution is to give a higher priority to transportation within the existing budget without using what amounts to political neglect as an excuse to to raise an unfair tax. Making Maryland's sales gasoline tax plus gasoline tax more than twice that of the gas tax in Virginia will surely drive Maryland jobs to Virginia.
The writer is a candidate for the Republican nomination of the 6th Congressional District of Maryland