Ryan Holeywell is a staff writer at GOVERNING.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Maryland is the latest state state where a major political player is spending political capital advocating a plan to increase transportation funding.
Maryland state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller is making headlines after telling the Washington Post he will soon propose a gas tax increase as well as a possible plan to lease one of the state's newest toll roads.
Both moves could be politically unpopular. Marylanders aren't likely to enjoy the idea of paying more at the pump, and leasing toll roads often opens the door to toll hikes that make drivers grumble. "It doesn't poll well," Miller said, "but that's what leadership is all about."
The plan would include a new 3 percent sales tax on gasoline. Already, the state charges a 23.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax, but the tax has remain unchanged for 20 years. The new sales tax would effectively act as a new, indexed gas tax, since it would rise as fuel costs increase, unlike the current tax.
Miller is also exploring the idea of leasing the state's new Intercounty Connector, which opened in 2011, similar to Indiana's lease of the Indiana Toll Road. He told the newspaper he'll introduce the plan as legislation next week.
Last year, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley pitched increasing gas taxes by way of applying the state's 6 percent sales tax to gasoline. The plan didn't gain traction, and he hasn't proposed it again in 2013. Miller's plan is a scaled-down version of the O'Malley proposal.
A new poll released by Maryland-based Gonzales Research this month reveals the difficult political dynamic facing lawmakers in Maryland (and many other states for that matter).
While 94 percent of registered Maryland voters said it's important to maintain and improve the state's transportation system, just 26 percent said they'd accept a 10-cent per gallon gas tax increase to accomplish that task.
That's one of the reasons why neighboring Virginia is taking a drastically different approach and considering dispensing with the politically unpopular gas tax altogether and replacing it with a sales tax hike.