A new session of the Maryland General Assembly reconvenes in January, but some local leaders are already pushing for more transportation funding.
Politicians from Montgomery County, Md., recommended passing some form of a tax increase Wednesday in order to fund new transportation projects. The group focused on raising the state's gas tax during a transportation on summit funding in Annapolis. The Montgomery County leaders hosted not just politicians but business officials and transit advocates.
"Maybe we're at the breaking point, and we've got enough problems that Rip Van Maryland will wake up from its long transportation slumber and say 'Oh My God! We've got a transportation crisis and we need to do something," said Lon Anderson of AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Montgomery County, Howard County and Prince George's County executives noted that Virginia has surpassed Maryland in the number of completed road and mass transit projects. In order to close the gap, the lawmakers proposed passing a gas tax hike during the General Assembly's 2013 session. The state's gas tax hasn't been increased since 1992.
"I filled up my car for $3.28 a gallon. Just a few weeks before it was $3.78 a gallon," said Montgomery County Council member George Leventhal. "The way that gas prices fluctuate, I really don't think consumers would feel a lot of pain."
Gov. Martin O'Malley pushed a similar gas tax hike during this year's legislative session. The bill received only one committee hearing and was never voted on. Leventhal thinks the upcoming session is the time for lawmakers to okay a tax hike, since 2014 is an election year and voters can send a swift response to any unpopular tax increase.
But Gus Bauman, who chaired the commission that issued a report calling for the gas tax to be raised, doesn't agree.
"There's always an election year. The question is whether we are going to have leadership or not," Bauman said. "I'm absolutely convinced that anyone running on a platform of transportation can win."
Bauman believes any tax increase must come with a bill that assures those revenues are spent on transportation. But the latter might be even more difficult to achieve, says Kathy Snyder, president and CEO of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.
"Every governor since Governor Hughes back in the late 1980's has had to borrow money from the trust fund to fill a budget hole for the state operating budget," Snyder says.
What ends up getting passed comes down to one thing, says Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker.
"It depends on the political will. I think those of us, especially at the local level, who feel it every day, have got to push our delegation to understand how we need them to get it done now," Baker said.
The General Assembly convenes for the 2013 session January 9.