SPEAKING OUT:

Ehrlich Heads the Wrong Way

by State Delegate Peter Franchot
Democrat, Montgomery County

The Governor proposes an increase of 87 to 89 percent in the State's annual car registration tax. If approved as proposed, this would impose an unprecedented burden on Maryland motorists, regardless of age, income, or level of transportation use.
Governor Ehrlich has presented to the Maryland General Assembly a plan to add over $300 million in new revenues to the Transportation Trust Fund. The need for such an initiative is undeniable, given the traffic gridlock that is now choking our metropolitan areas and the unsatisfied need for capacity expansions and safety improvements across the state. Similarly, the level of investment proposed by the Governor has been validated by the blue-ribbon Hellmann Commission, and--if anything--is a very conservative goal.

At issue here is the way in which the Governor has proposed refilling the Trust Fund. Of his $320 million plan, over $100 million is based upon highly questionable revenue assumptions. Another $32 million would be attained by creating another hole in the General Fund--an option that seems even more unpalatable than ever, given that our structural deficit now exceeds $700 million and will eventually top $1 billion.

The centerpiece of the Governor's transportation programs is an 87 percent increase in the State's annual car registration tax. For drivers of heavy vehicles, the rate of increase is 89 percent. If approved as proposed, this would impose an unprecedented burden on Maryland motorists, regardless of age, income, or level of transportation use.

By benefiting long-distance commuters at the expense of our most vulnerable citizens, this plan violates fundamental progressive values.

A senior citizen on a fixed income who currently pays $54 every two years would, under Governor Ehrlich's plan, pay $101. A Maryland-based CEO who logs 400 miles a week on the roads would pay exactly the same amount. An out-of-state motorist traveling from Elkton to Cumberland on Maryland highways would pay nothing. By benefiting long-distance commuters at the expense of our most vulnerable citizens, this plan violates fundamental progressive values. By exempting out-of-state drivers of their responsibility to help fix the daily backups and potholes they have helped create, this plan violates basic common sense.

We know there is a better way to invest in Maryland's transportation system. A gas tax is a progressive user fee, in the truest sense of the term. By increasing Maryland's gasoline tax for the first time since 1992, the senior citizen who seldom drives would pay less than the long-distance CEO. The driver from Delaware or West Virginia would contribute to the solution as well as the problem.

Maryland's legislators have an extraordinary opportunity --to create a far safer and efficient transportation system than the one we have today. With this, however, comes a responsibility to achieve this in a way that is both fiscally responsible and consistent with progressive values. I believe an increase of 10 cents in Maryland's gas tax meets this high standard while raising money we need to sustain a world-class transportation system.



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This story was published on March 16, 2004.