Md. transportation panel narrows funding options

A Maryland transportation funding panel is leaning toward boosting the state's gas tax and raising vehicle registration fees as it narrows down a list of recommendations for raising about $800 million a year in new money for transportation.

The state's Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding won't formally decide on the recommendations to Gov. Martin O'Malley and the General Assembly until Oct. 25, but the panel on Tuesday ruled out a sales tax increase or property tax increase to help raise the new money.

Gus Bauman, the panel's chairman, said the commission's top recommendation will be for state officials to end the practice of steering money away from the state's Transportation Trust Fund to fill other budget holes. Bauman said the panel will recommend a constitutional amendment ending the practice.

"It cannot be diverted as they've been doing in past years to other purposes of the government," Bauman said. "That is the core recommendation of this group."

The biggest money-raiser would be increasing the motor fuel tax by 15 cents a gallon over three years.

Maryland's gas tax, which is 23.5 cents a gallon, has not been raised since 1992. The panel is leaning toward recommending a gas tax increase of 5 cents a year for three years. After that, the gas tax would be indexed to the Construction Cost Index.

The state would raise an estimated $491 million a year after the full 15-cent increase went into effect. A 5-cent increase raises about $164 million, according to estimates.

The panel's tentative recommendations also include a 50 percent increase in vehicle registration costs, which would raise about $165 million.

Another recommendation would double fees for vehicle emissions testing from $14 to $28.

The panel also is considering either increasing the vehicle titling tax rate from 6 percent to 6.5 percent or repealing a trade-in allowance. Either one would raise about $70 million.

The panel also is aiming to gradually restore about $350 million in transportation funding to local governments and municipalities that has been tapped by the state to balance the budget in recent years. The money, which would come from the roughly $800 million in new revenue, would be restored over five years.

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