Del. Frank Turner said he doesn't like increasing the gas tax, but "to do nothing is irresponsible." Turner, a Columbia Democrat, served as Democratic floor leader for the heated gas tax debate, which was eventually passed by the House of Delegates, 76 to 63.

He was one of 76 Democrats voting for its passage. Voting against the bill were 41 Republicans and 22 Democrats.

If passed by the Senate, it would be the first gas tax increase since 1992.

The gas tax is expected to raise $600 million for transportation needs when it is fully implemented in 2016. Residents will first see a nearly four-cent increase in gas prices July 1. After a series of increments by 2016, the gas tax will be raised 16 cents from its current 23.5 cents.

Turner argued that it is better to "be proactive rather than reactive," citing recent bridge failures and the condition of some bridges in the state.

Howard County delegates were split on the gas tax vote.

Democrats Liz Bobo, Guy Guzzone and Shane Pendergrass joined Turner in supporting the measure.

Republicans Gail Bates and Warren Miller voted against the increase along with Democrats Steve DeBoy and James Malone.

Guzzone said funding created by the increase will be used for an expansion of the emergency medical system, a new digital communications system for emergency responders, improvements to the MARC rail service on both weekends and mid-days, and improvements to local transit bus lines.

"Without the funding included in the transportation bill, none of these things would be possible," he said.

Merriweather legislation heads to Senate

A bill that would relax noise limitations on Merriweather Post Pavilion has passed the House of Delegates and now heads to the Senate.

Del. Liz Bobo, a Democrat whose district includes Merriweather, has opposed the bill, but said it is "much stronger" after amendments in the Environmental Matters Committee.

The bill was amended to give county government the authority to adopt regulations on noise levels at Merriweather beginning Oct. 1.

Merriweather had asked for a bill preventing the county from having this authority but later amended their request to operate at a maximum of 95 decibels.

Although Bobo said the amendments improve the bill, she still voted against it in committee because she didn't feel confident the 95-decibel level was appropriate.

If passed by the Senate, the Columbia concert venue could operate at 95 decibels within a quarter-mile radius of the pavilion from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. There are no residential properties within that radius.

At residential property lines outside the radius, Merriweather would have to abide by a 72.5 decibel level, up from the current 65 decibel level.

The county's current noise ordinance requires the decibel level at surrounding residential properties to drop from a maximum of 65 during the day to 55 at 10 p.m.

Village managers require no license