GBC’s Fry: Miller’s gas tax bill frames Maryland’s transportation fund dilemma

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR

If there is one key economic resource that’s fundamental to the business climate, it’s transportation.

A good transportation infrastructure relates directly to a growing economy and job creation.

That’s why, despite the fact that no one likes tax increases, we must understand the perspective of lawmakers who are proposing to increase Maryland’s gasoline tax, one of the largest sources of funding for our state’s transportation infrastructure.

For example, Senate President Mike Miller’s proposal for a 12-cent per gallon gas tax increase may make drivers wince at first glance. But Miller’s proposal, which would raise an additional $400 million per year, effectively frames Maryland’s transportation dilemma.

Experts say that between $400 and $600 million in new revenue per year is needed to adequately fund highways, transit, port and aviation facilities, and other key elements of Maryland’s future transportation infrastructure. The reason? Maryland’s transportation costs are increasing 4.5 percent per year, while transportation revenue is increasing only 2.6 percent annually.

A 12-cent increase would close most of that gap and would put the state’s gas tax at 35.5 cents per gallon — about 15 percent of the current price of regular gas. That’s a smaller percent than after Maryland’s last gas tax increase in 1992, when the tax equated to 21 percent of the price.

In Baltimore, as many as 210,000 more people will live in our region in 10 years. We’ll all want to get around without the kind of mobility nightmares suffered in other metropolitan areas — and that we, in the Baltimore region, have mostly avoided until now.

Whether through gas tax increases or some other option, Maryland is going to have to find a way — if not this year, then soon – to raise between $400 and $600 million per year to pay for more than 90 transportation projects now in the planning stages, but not yet funded.

Transportation funding represents Maryland’s most significant economic development challenge over the next decade. It’s important that we act sooner, rather than later.

For the Regional Business Report, this is Don Fry, President & CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, for 88.1 WYPR, your NPR news station.

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