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Editorial: Fight gas tax increase

It's hard to swallow Gov. Martin O'Malley's calls for an increase in the gas tax as a way to support additional transportation projects when his administration, and others before it, have made a habit out of raiding the fund in order to balance the budget.

"We are at that crisis point today, and it's time for the Maryland Legislature to act," Don Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee told the Associated Press last week. Other groups, however, see things differently.

According to AAA Mid-Atlantic, Maryland drivers would end up paying one of the highest statewide gasoline motor fuel taxes in the nation if O'Malley's proposal passes.

If the legislation passed, the tax on a gallon of gas would increase from 23.5 cents today to 42.7 cents in the 2018 fiscal year. In addition, while the excise tax would initially decrease from 23.5 cents to 18.5 cents, that tax would be linked to the Consumer Price Index moving forward, meaning it would likely keep rising automatically in order to keep pace with inflation.

In a press release, AAA also noted the problem of raising the gas tax when the state has a history of raiding the Transportation Trust Fund to balance the budget, and says provisions need to be in place to stop that in the future.

"In Maryland, where raiding the TTF for non-transportation expenditures is a common occurrence, we need strong measures like the constitutional amendment proposed in SB 829 (Transportation Trust Fund - Financing - Use of Funds) sponsored by Senate President Thomas V. (Mike) Miller, Jr., to ensure protections to the State's TTF," Ragina C. Averella, Public and Government Affairs Manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic said in the press release.

In opposing the tax increase, Del. Susan Krebs, R-9B, said the state also needs to return highway user revenue given to local governments back to previous levels, and said gas taxes and fees should go toward highways and roads instead of mass transit.

It does not make sense to take money from the Transportation Trust Fund for other areas of the budget, reduce highway user fee money to local governments and then say we need a gas tax increase to pay for road projects.

If the state is serious about wanting to improve transportation, it should focus first on repaying the money taken from the trust fund, return more money to local governments for roadwork and then, if the money runs out, perhaps they would have a case for increasing the gas tax. As it stands, the proposed increase makes no sense.

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