Senate Thomas V. Mike Miller, a longtime proponent of raising revenue for transportation projects, said it is unlikely that the General Assembly will pass Gov.Martin O'Malley's plan to increase gasoline taxes this spring and suggested trying again at a special session later this year.
In remarks after Tuesday's Senate session, Miller said that once legislators have dealt with the hefty tax increases proposed to balance O'Malley's budget, he doubts lawmakers will be willing to consider another big tax hike.
"As long as gas price is high, I don't see any appetite for a gas tax increase," said Miller, a Calvert County Democrat.
The Senate president, who had come into the session vowing to pass a gas tax increase, all but ruled out such action during the current session. With the recent run-up in the price of gas, he said members are wary of doing anything that would further add to cost at the pump. O'Malley is proposing that Maryland extend its 6 percent sales tax to the cost of gasoline -- a plan that would add an estimated 18-21 cents to Maryland's 23.5-cents-a-gallon gas tax over a three-year phase-in period.
Miller acknowledged that taxes on gasoline are especially unpopular.
"It never polls well," he said. "It will never poll well in the history of the republic."
Noting that the gas tax has not been increased since 1992, Miller said Maryland needs additional revenue for roads and transit projects. He said the political conditions for raising the gas tax might be less difficult in a special session if prices have settled back to around $3.
While he threw cold water on the prospects of a gas tax increase passing this session, Miller said he believes he has the votes in the Senate to pass an income tax increase that would stave off significant cuts in education and health programs.
The Senate will begin debating the budget and a companion revenue measure Wednesday. That same day, O'Malley is scheduled to testify before several legislative committees in favor of his gas tax plan.