Governor signs gas tax bill to fund them

ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley on Thursday announced $1.2 billion in transportation projects as he signed into law a new gas tax to fund them.

The projects include the proposed Purple and Red light rail lines in Montgomery and Prince George's counties and Baltimore, respectively, the Corridor Cities Transitway, a new interchange and improvements along Interstate 270 in Montgomery County and a new interchange on Indian Head Highway in Prince George's County.

Other bills signed by O'Malley
• Requiring nonunion educators to pay a fee to unions. Nonunion teachers are covered under union contracts and represented by unions in grievances.
• Repealing an end date to the statewide DNA database.
• Prohibiting Marylanders from placing fraudulent liens on the property of public employees. Anti-government extremists have used that tactic to destroy public employees' and law enforcement credit ratings and wreak havoc on personal finances.
• Changing the way pensions are funded, requiring Maryland make the full pension payment every year. The old funding system allowed the state to underfund pensions.
• Declaring Nov. 1 a state holiday -- Maryland Emancipation Day.
• Declaring March be Irish-American Heritage Month.
• Directing the state to give preference to the purchase of American-made goods for public construction projects.

The projects are being paid for by the transportation funding law that O'Malley signed on Thursday, which will increase prices at the pump by 4 cents per gallon as Maryland applies a 1 percent wholesale tax on gasoline on July 1. That will increase to 2 percent -- an additional 8 cents per gallon -- by Jan. 1, 2015, and will go up to 3 percent by July 2015. The law also indexes Maryland's 23.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax to inflation.

The Transportation Trust Fund, which is used to pay for transportation projects, had no money for new endeavors before the law was passed and was expected to go bankrupt by 2018. The current gas tax was passed in 1992 and hasn't been changed since.

"This historic transportation bill allows us to move forward with the first new major transportation projects in more than eight years and get our construction industry back to work," O'Malley said.

Anti-tax groups say the package is just another tax hike in a long list of increases under O'Malley.

"Gov. O'Malley's ... gas tax hike solidifies Maryland's reputation as having a dreadful tax climate, which we must shake," said Nick Loffer, Americans for Prosperity-Maryland's interim state director. "It's shameful that O'Malley is only giving his pet industries a break, like the $25 million Hollywood film tax credit, while average families and businesses suffer from his outrageous tax hikes."

During legislative debate on the bill, opponents worried that most of the money would go to transit projects rather than roads and bridges.

Indeed, of the nearly $1.2 billion, $650 million is going to mass transit and $534 million to roads and bridges.

The Purple Line is receiving $280 million to finalize design and obtain land rights for the rail system that would run 16 miles from New Carrollton to Bethesda, while the Red Line in Baltimore is receiving $170 million. Both projects are hoping for federal funding for construction.

The Corridor Cities Transitway bus rapid transit system between Rockville and Gaithersburg is receiving $100 million for land rights and design finalization.

On the highways, $125 million will go to build an interchange with Watkins Mill Road over I-270 in Gaithersburg and for improvements along the highway. In Prince George's County, $100 million is going to replace the current Indian Head Highway intersection at Kerby Hill and Livingston roads with an interchange.