Sun Editorial: Gas Tax Better Than Other Revenue Alternatives

A Baltimore Sun opinion piece reacts to recent comments by legislators in opposition to increasing the gas tax and argues that the gas tax is the best approach when considering other revenue alternatives.

What’s maddening about lawmakers and their kneejerk reaction to the 10-cent tax is that the alternatives for reviving the depleted trust fund are even less appealing. Raise fees? Already been done. Car registration and titling? Ditto. The corporate tax has already been boosted, and raising the sales tax by a penny and setting aside that money for transportation (a practice common in other states) is a nonstarter, as the ink is barely dry on the 2007 sales tax increase.

Making matters worse, of course, is that the trust fund has been raided to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to help balance the state budget. Some of that has been repaid (or will be in the future), but much of it was not. As commonplace as the practice of dipping into the trust fund has become in economic hard times, it still amounts to eating the seed corn. Nonetheless, simply stopping it won’t be enough to solve Maryland’s transportation problems.

Maryland’s gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1992, when the current 23.5 cents per gallon represented about 20 percent of the cost of a gallon of gasoline, which was about $1.13 at the time. If that 20 percent ratio were restored today, consumers would be looking not at a dime increase but at five times that much.What Governor O’Malley and all those reluctant lawmakers need to do is bite the bullet and act this year (this fall’s special session on legislative redistricting would seem the ideal moment) and not wait for polls to show the public supports a gas tax increase — something that’s unlikely to ever happen.

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