Say transportation projects would create jobs

ANNAPOLIS -- Elected officials across Maryland are urging state lawmakers to pass the first increase in the state's gasoline tax in 19 years so the state can spend more on rails, roads and bridges, which they say will create jobs.

Recommended by the state's Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding, the 15-cent increase to the state's 23.5-cent tax on each gallon of gas -- levied in 5-cent increases every year for three years -- is expected to bring in an additional $491 million each year of the increase, helping to cover the $800 million in annual transportation needs.

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker and Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake joined Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown -- who spoke on behalf of Gov. Martin O'Malley -- to insist that increasing the gas tax will help revive the state's economy.

Transportation projects -- like improvements to Routes 5 and 210 in Prince George's County and the construction of the Baltimore Red Line and the Purple Line that would connect New Carrollton to Bethesda -- are underfunded and are desperately needed to create and retain jobs, said Leggett, Baker and Rawlings-Blake.

In Baltimore, more than 30 of the city's 300 bridges are "structurally deficient," and 60 more are "functionally obsolete," said Rawlings-Blake, citing federal standards. According to a 2008 study, only 67 percent of the city's roads are in an acceptable condition.

In Montgomery, "we are looking at billions of dollars of unmet transportation needs," said Leggett, insisting that he wanted an increase in the gas tax years ago. "Our economy, our jobs are tied to our ability to develop transportation."

If Montgomery doesn't improve its congested roadways, businesses will build in Northern Virginia instead, Leggett said. And projects like the new Johns Hopkins University Life Sciences Center planned for the Interstate 270 corridor depend on transportation improvements.

"One billion dollars of transportation infrastructure investments can expect to yield from 18,000 to 30,000 jobs," Brown said at a joint hearing of the House Appropriations and Ways and Means committees. "When those construction workers go to work, they're going to be [spending money in] those small businesses on Main Street."

Prince George's County has all the necessary ingredients to increase jobs in the county except quality roadways, Baker said.

"Without you providing us the resources by putting the money into the transportation fund then I can't build the kind of economy that we deserve in Prince George's County."

Leggett also emphasized the need to secure the state's dedicated Transportation Trust Fund. In the past several years, Gov. Martin O'Malley has dipped into the fund to fill budget gaps in the general fund, including $100 million for the current fiscal year. Department of Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley insisted Tuesday that the money will be repaid.