By AMBER LARKINS
ANNAPOLIS—Republican legislators called Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.s gas tax plan irresponsible, and proposed an alternative Tuesday morning that they say would better protect dedicated funds for transportation.
Miller, who has proposed a gas tax increase to pay for transportation projects, shot back, comparing Republicans to Neanderthals and prompting a day-long rhetorical battle.
During a press conference Tuesday, members of the Republican Caucus outlined a three-pronged approach to fixing the Transportation Trust Fund: protect, align and restore. The Transportation Trust Fund is mostly funded by the gas tax, and pays for maintenance and building of roads and bridges, as well as mass transportation.
Delegate Herb McMillan, R-Anne Arundel, is sponsoring legislation to be heard by the Appropriations Committee on Feb. 26, which would protect money already in dedicated funds, such as the Transportation Trust Fund, by limiting the governors ability to raid special funds, except in cases of catastrophic events. The plan also would mandate the creation of a five-year repayment plan.
Miller has a similar bill, which will be heard by the Budget and Taxation Committee at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
The major difference between the two plans, say Republicans, is that McMillans bill would protect dedicated funds, making it so that money could only be withdrawn during a state of emergency, such as a foreign invasion. Millers bill allows the governor to pull money from dedicated funds during times of fiscal crisis.
It basically institutionalizes the dysfunction that has brought us to this point, McMillan said of Millers plan.
Republicans claim $1 billion has been taken out of the Transportation Trust Fund and never replaced
Billions of dollars have been taken from dedicated funds and put into the general fund over the past 10 years. However, according to an analysis by Patrick S. Frank of the Department of Legislative Services, the Transportation Trust Fund has been repaid, although most other dedicated fund accounts have not.
We need to protect the Transportation Trust Fund. said Delegate Susan W. Krebs R-Carroll. We should not even be discussing a gas tax until a lock box on the Transportation Trust Fund is put in place.
Miller, however, said that all state money has been repaid, although he said funds taken from local lock boxes have not been restored.
Republicans also want to realign funding with the modes of transportation that people use.
Mass transit gets 57 percent of the funds, even though they only have 8.8 percent of the users, McMillan said.
McMillan also suggests putting an end to the millions in tax credits that go to multi-billion dollar corporations, such as coal companies, and using part of the $500 million increase in tax revenues for this year to help replace funds in the Transportation Trust Fund.
Millers other bill being heard Wednesday seeks to fill a deficit in the Transportation Trust Fund by increasing the gas tax by 3 percent on the wholesale level, and by allowing regions to create their own gas taxes of up to five cents per gallon.
However, McMillan said a 3 percent raise on the wholesale level means a 10-cent per gallon raise for motorists. If localities also create regional taxes, this is essentially a 15-cent increase which would make it the highest tax in the country, McMillan said.
Miller said Republicans want to fix transportation funding, but they care more about being re-elected.
The Republicans arent the only ones who Miller wishes would do more to support his legislation. He also chided Gov. Martin OMalley for not being more vocal in his support.
The governor would like to find a way to have someone else let this happen, Miller said.
However, Miller said hes not the least bit optimistic about his bill passing
This is not a popular issue, Miller said. People have to be forced to take a position.
Tuesday afternoon, Republicans emailed a statement expressing disappointment about Miller calling them Neanderthals.
His remarks are indicative of the lack of civil discourse that prevents good public policy from moving forward in Maryland, said House Minority Leader Anthony ODonnell and House Minority Whip Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio.
Lucas High contributed to this story.