Republicans Warn of State Tax Hikes

By Sarah Miller, The County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md.—Sales tax money that went into the Transportation Trust Fund last year is now being funneled into the state general fund instead.

To help rebuild the fund, there are murmurs among state officials of raising the gas tax and other transportation taxes, which are supposed to go directly into the transportation set-aside.

Unfortunately, just because the funds are slated to go into a dedicated fund doesn’t mean that is what they get used for, a fact Delegate Mark Fisher (R-27B) discussed during a recent town hall meeting in North Beach.

He said raising taxes to rebuild trust funds will do nothing unless there are also laws passed to put “lock boxes” on the trust funds, preventing the monies from being used for other purposes, such as helping to balance the state budget.

House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-29C) echoed Fisher’s concerns, saying raising the taxes to replenish the trust funds will only serve to give the state more money unless preventative measures are taken to make sure the trust fund money is used for its intended purpose. Getting such legislation passed, though, would be “difficult” because of the amount of people who would have to vote to close those loopholes.

“The government gets creative when they spend more than they make,” O’Donnell said.

Potential tax increases include motor fuel taxes, increased registration fees and titling taxes, among other things.

O’Donnell said the taxes punish the rural areas of Maryland, like Calvert and St. Mary’s counties, by making it more expensive to own cars and drive from location to location, a necessity in rural Maryland. This type of proposition, which would have the most negative impact on less urban areas of the state, has become common for Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, in O’Donnell’s opinion.

“The governor is engaged in a war with rural Maryland,” O’Donnell said.

He said in addition to being difficult for rural areas, the transportation taxes would be difficult for the state as a whole to swallow.

“In my opinion, the government can’t withstand the gas tax,” O’Donnell said.

Raquel Guillory, communications director with Governor O’Malley’s office, said O’Malley has no such grudge against rural Maryland, adding the tax increases were a recommendation from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding – a recommendation which may or may not be supported by the governor.

“We have not finalized any plans in regard to potential revenue enhancements,” Guillory said.

As for the gas tax increase having a disproportionate effect on people in rural areas, she said there are also people in urban areas that use a lot of gas commuting into the cities and sitting in traffic. She said before anything is done, they have to study the idea and its potential impact on all residents of Maryland.

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