Would allow counties to charge own levies, add sales tax

Maryland drivers face two more taxes on gasoline under a transportation-funding plan being pushed by the Maryland Senate president.

Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's and Calvert counties, told reporters Thursday that his plan includes allowing counties to charge their own gas tax up to 5 cents per gallon and attaching a sales tax to gasoline to pay for local projects. He is expected to introduce legislation next week.

Maryland's gas tax is a flat 23.5 cents per gallon and has remained at that level since 1992. Miller's plan would allow counties to raise that as far as 28.5 cents per gallon.

The plan also would partially eliminate gasoline's exemption from the state's 6 percent sales tax, applying a 3 percent sales tax to the sale of gas. For a driver with a 20-gallon tank, a 3 percent sales tax would cost an extra $2 at AAA's current average price of $3.38 a gallon in Maryland.

If both measures are approved and a county charges the full 5 cents allowed, it would cost drivers nearly 15 cents a gallon under current prices.

Last year, Gov. Martin O'Malley discussed levying the full sales tax on gasoline but never introduced a proposal. He has talked about increasing the gas tax or adding a penny to the sales tax to fund transportation projects but hasn't introduced any legislation this session.

An O'Malley spokeswoman said the governor's office had not received details of Miller's proposal as of Thursday evening.

Applying a 3 percent sales tax to gasoline would raise an estimated $300 million -- short of the $700 million either of O'Malley's proposals would have raised. It's not clear how much would be raised by counties increasing the gas tax locally.

Miller's plan also would create regional transit authorities with currently unspecified taxing powers. They could potentially increase property taxes in the counties to help pay for projects, such as Montgomery and Prince George's counties' planned Purple Line light rail; the Red Line in Baltimore; and the Corridor Cities Transitway bus line planned for the Interstate 270 corridor north of Shady Grove.

Miller's proposal also could include something the Senate president has mentioned several times in the past: leasing a public roadway, such as the Intercounty Connector.

Maryland's Transportation Trust Fund has no money to start new projects and is projected to go bankrupt by 2018.

Montgomery County officials in the fall suggested being allowed to charge a gas tax for transportation projects. However, County Councilman George Leventhal, D-at large, on Thursday would say only that Miller's plan got the conversation started.

A spokesman for Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker was similarly reticent, saying the county will review the legislation once it is introduced.