Taking the first step in grappling with what could become one of the most difficult issues of the 2013 General Assembly, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller introduced a bill Monday night that would raise hundreds of millions of dollars for transportation projects and shift the more of the burden of financing transit projects to Baltimore and the urban counties.
Miller's proposed legislation is expected to be the starting point for discussions with Gov.
Miller announced the introduction of his transportation package from the podium Monday night.
"It's a menu for the governor," Miller said. "The House doesn't have a single bill in dealing with the subject."
The issue is one of the most politically sensitive facing lawmakers. While the state has a backlog of billions of dollars worth of transportation projects and some of the nation's worst traffic congestion, polls have shown that voters are unwilling to pay higher taxes for roads and mass transit.
Under Miller's bill, Maryland would apply a 3 percent statewide sales tax to gasoline at the wholesale level -- half the level O'Malley proposed unsuccessfully last year. The state would also grant counties and Baltimore the option of adding up to 5 cents to the state's current 23.5 percent gasoline tax to pay for local transportation projects.
The Senate president, a
Miller is also proposing a study of the feasibility of entering into a long-term lease of the Intercounty Connector. He said the move could free up $2 billion in borrowing capacity to pay for projects. In proposing a study, the Senate president appears to be backing off an earlier suggestion that the state could authorize such a move this session.
Miller also submitted a companion bill that would propose a constitutional amendment that would put what he called a "lockbox" on the state's Transportation Trust Fund that would protect it from diversions of money to other purposes. Miller said the amendment, which would have to be approved by voters, provides for an exception if the governor declares a financial emergency and he wins the approval of the House and Senate by three-fifths votes.
One of the most common reasons given by lawmakers for refusing to vote for transportation revenue is a concern that the money would be used to balance the state budget in lean years -- a tactic employed by the last three governors.
Miller has said he is interested in breaking a deadlock under which rural and outer suburban lawmakers won't support transportation revenues out of a concern that too much of the money would go to transit.