WASHINGTON -- If Maryland lawmakers don't approve a gas-tax hike next year, there's little chance anything will be done politically on the issue until after the 2014 state elections. As The Baltimore Sun reports, State Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola (D-Mongtomery County) told the Greater Baltimore Committee's annual transportation summit that the next round of state elections will cause any candidate to be "skittish" about raising the gas tax, usually a toxic issue for politicians heading into an election year.
So that means that the upcoming legislative session starting in January will be make-or-break time for getting higher fuel taxes through the General Assembly.
Maryland's gas tax has been set at 23.5 cents per gallon since the early 1990s. But as lawmakers at the state and federal level have been wary about spending, hiking taxes has been an unpalatable prospect.What's at stake? Transportation funding and infrastructure. As the Examiner reported last week:
All eyes will be on the governor, who has the challenge of navigating a $1 billion budget deficit and figuring out a way to raise transportation revenue at the same time. O'Malley has said the state needs to look at all options and be willing to consider new taxes to keep up with its infrastructure needs.
The state's commission on transportation funding says lawmakers need to put at least $800 million into Maryland's withering transportation coffer each year to repair crumbling roads and aging bridges, after Gov. Martin O'Malley drained the fund to plug annual budget deficits.
With another $1 billion budget deficit estimated in fiscal 2013 and local transportation needs pushing $12 billion, budget analysts say Maryland lawmakers may have no choice but to raise taxes.
So, will that happen? The legislative forecast is unclear. While Democrats control both legislative chambers and hold the governor's mansion, there may not be the political will -- or time -- to raise Maryland's gas tax.
As The Washington Times reported last week, Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Edward J. Kasemeyer thinks "legislators will likely have their hands full attempting to close an anticipated $1 billion budget shortfall and might not get around to considering a proposal to raise the 23.5-cents-a-gallon excise tax."
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