ANNAPOLIS - Two lawmakers from Montgomery and Prince George's counties want Maryland voters, instead of the legislature, to vote on new transportation funding.

Efforts to raise the gasoline tax to pay for transportation funding have consistently failed in the General Assembly, as lawmakers are wary to raise taxes for political reasons, said Sen. Jim Rosapepe, who introduced the bill in the assembly's special session Thursday. Del. Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery, is expected to pitch similar legislation in the House.

"Right now you've got political gridlock that's stopping us from ending traffic gridlock because we've relied on the traditional approach," he said.

Rather than periodically raise new revenues, and then allow the governor and lawmakers to decide years later how to spend it, the referendum approach would allow the General Assembly to pitch a complete transportation package -- one that includes a source of funding and a specific project those funds would be used for -- and allow voters statewide to approve or shoot down the project.

Projects could range from building the Purple Line, a proposed 16-mile light rail project from Bethesda to New Carrollton, to fixing escalators on the Metrorail system, Rosapepe said.

And funding could come from a variety of sources -- perhaps a gas tax or bonds.

"That would be up to a future legislature to put together a package and take that to voters," he said.

The bill also would create a lockbox for the state's transportation trust fund, which has been raided over the years to help close the state's budget. Funds could be transferred only in extraordinary situations, and the transfer would need approval of a supermajority of the General Assembly.

"We have the best schools in America but the worst traffic," Rosapepe said. "That's crazy. It's because we have not been investing in transportation."

The concept is similar to one used in Atlanta earlier this year, when lawmakers pitched a 10-year, 1 percent sales tax that would have funded $7.2 billion in local and regional transportation improvements.

The measure, however, was unsuccessful, as Atlanta voters rejected the plan in July.

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com