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Death Penalty, Wind Power On Maryland Legislature's Agenda

Vote on transportation funding, gas tax less certain

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Both the death penalty and wind power are expected to come up or a vote on the Maryland Senate floor.
Matt Bush
Both the death penalty and wind power are expected to come up or a vote on the Maryland Senate floor.

Two high-profile bills that have failed to come up for a vote in the Maryland State Senate in recent years — a repeal of the state's death penalty and a bill to allow offshore wind farms — will both likely get another chance during the upcoming session of the General Assembly.

Death penalty could come for vote

The last time lawmakers took up a repeal of the death penalty in Maryland was 2009, but it couldn't pass the full Senate, despite a rare move to allow the bill to bypass a Senate committee. Senate President Mike Miller, who supports the death penalty, will allow the move again if he sees that there are enough votes to pass the repeal this year, he said Tuesday.

"I know pretty much how everyone is going to vote before they do. It's a close vote: 24-23, 25-22, and I know who the likely switches are going to be," Miller said. "And we're going to talk to them ahead of time, and if it has a majority of votes to move it forward, we'll move it forward."

Gov. Martin O'Malley, who has sought to repeal the death penalty ever since taking office, believes the votes are there in the Senate this year.

Another of O'Malley's top priorities, expanding wind power off the Eastern Shore of Maryland, failed by a single vote in a Senate committee last year. Miller has all but assured that the Senate will take a full vote on the bill this year, saying he wants to see all members get a chance to debate the matter.

O'Malley: 'Stay tuned' for transpo proposal

Less assured is a vote on raising the state's gas tax in order to increase statewide transportation funding. O'Malley tried last year to apply the state's sales tax to gas.  His plan didn't even receive a committee vote in either the House or Senate.

"Instead the session ended debating gaming instead of debating that shortfall in transportation investments," O'Malley said Tuesday. "So, hopefully now with gaming behind us, the legislature will have more time this session to address that underinvestment in transportation."

O'Malley promised to try again this year to get new transportation funding, but he was coy about what his proposal this time will be, telling reporters to "stay tuned" for an announcement.

Senate may take up regional transportation funding

Miller has offered a different idea, however, which would make a tax hike more regional. It would allow counties like Montgomery and Prince George's to have higher tax rates than the rest of the state so those areas can collect money directly for projects like the Purple Line light rail project. Many rural lawmakers will not support higher gas taxes, because they feel their areas will not see any benefits from such hikes, Miller said. 

"I'm a realist.  I think it's the only way something has a chance for passage," he said. 

Montgomery County executive Isiah Leggett is not onboard with the regional transportation taxation plan. He still feels a statewide tax hike is the only way to go, he said. 

"The transportation trust fund is basically empty at this point," he said. "We have large needs in Montgomery County and the state of Maryland.  And we can not continue to punt this to the next administration or further down the road."

Maryland's 23-cent per gallon gas tax has not been raised in two decades.

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