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Fund Md. transit with regional tax

Budgets and BudgetingPublic Transportation

Your editorial regarding the gas tax failed to address all of the facts and issues of this serious debate ("Annapolis gridlock," Jan 4). The Maryland Transportation Trust Fund was designed to fund capital projects for the construction and repair of roadways and bridges and to be funded by the Maryland gas tax as a user fee. Over time, the use of the fund has expanded to include other transportation capital projects — subways, buses, and light rail.

This starts to subvert the "user fee" criteria a bit, but it was rationalized by the argument that the auto commuters need to subsidize the construction of mass transportation to get these systems up and running.

The real rub comes when the operating costs of these mass transit systems are discussed. By statute, these systems must cover a specific minimum percentage of their operating cost. However, over the years, our state administrators have decided to ignore this as the fare box revenues generated by our bus, subway and light rail systems have continually failed to cover their portion of the operating costs, and they continue to fall farther and farther behind each year.

Very substantial portions of the Maryland Transportation Trust Fund are used to subsidize the daily ridership of our mass transit systems in the Baltimore and Washington areas. This is a very large drain as trust fund dollars that might have been used on constriction and repair of our transportation systems are lost to transit operating costs.

So herein lies the real core of the debate on an increase in the gas tax: Should the drivers in Washington, Cecil, St Mary's, or Somerset counties be required to pay an even larger gas tax to further subsidize the fare box for the riders of the mass transportation systems in the Baltimore and Washington areas? The voters and legislators in our rural counties would say no.

An alternative revenue stream to a statewide tax increase, like the one proposed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, would be a special regional sales tax for the city and metropolitan counties that is dedicated for construction and operation of our mass transit systems. The areas whose economies and residents directly benefit from these systems would cover the growth in their costs to build and operate these systems.

As pointed out in your editorial, this would create higher and lower taxed areas but we already have this as established policy with property taxes and we also already have segments that are serviced by mass transportation and those that are not serviced.

J. Matthew McGlone, Towson

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