Gas tax bill approved by Senate committee

Pumping gas in carBy Ilana Kowarski

A controversial gas tax hike already passed by the House of Delegates was approved by a Senate committee on Thursday, moving it one step closer to becoming law.

The committee also unanimously passed a constitutional amendment to require a three-fifths  supermajority vote to prevent transportation money from being used for other purposes.

If passed, HB1515 will steadily increase gas taxes by at least 12 cents over the next two years and will direct that money toward construction projects on roads and mass transit, but it will only take effect if it is passed by both chambers of the General Assembly before the end of the legislative session on April 8.

The current gas tax is 23.5 cents per gallon, and that will go up to at least 35 cents per gallon in 2015,  and that will be indexed to inflation, one of the most objectionable features of the bill to opponents. The tax will go even higher if Congress does not pass a bill allowing states to tax all Internet sales.

The bills approval by the Budget and Tax Committee means that the bill will probably reach the Senate floor tomorrow.

One Democrat and all three Republicans vote against it

The committee voted 9-4 in favor of the bill, with dissenting votes from Senators James DeGrange, D-Anne Arundel, Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester, David Brinkley, R-Frederick, and George Edwards, R-Garrett.

Colburn proposed four amendments to HB1515, including one requiring that half of all transportation funds be spent on highways, but all of these proposals were rejected by the committee.

Montgomery County Democrat Sen. Richard Madaleno said that it was not necessary to restrict half of the transportation funds to highways. It will take a few years for the state to start construction on the Red Line — a proposed East-West Baltimore light rail line — and other transit projects, he said.

“The reality is that most of the money this year is going to go for road projects,” Madaleno said. “There’s only been a short period of time where we’ve seen transit funding eclipse highway funding, and that will change soon.”

Sen. Roger Manno (D-Montgomery) said that the state ought to create incentives for Marylanders to use transit rather than roads.

“We need mass transit,” he said. “We need people to get out of their cars  and to find other ways of getting around.”

Brinkley said that it was unfair to spend more on transit than roads.

“If you’re going to have this bill move forward, let the people that are paying for it – the motoring public – enjoy some of the benefits.”

Constitutional amendment on lockbox also approved

The committee also unanimously passed a bill proposed by Senate President Mike Miller that would create a lockbox for the Transportation Trust Fund, prohibiting the state from using that money for non-transportation purposes. The only exception would be when the Governor declares a fiscal emergency and a three-fifths majority of both houses of the General Assembly agree that the transportation trust fund may be used for other purposes.

Madaleno said that he supported the lockbox in order to reassure taxpayers that their money would be well spent and that revenue raised through the gas tax increase would not be directed to non-transportation programs.

“We want to make it clear to the voters that this money is going to transportation,” he said.

The O’Malley proposal passed by the House contained a weaker lockbox provision requiring three fifths votes in two standing committees before the Transportation Trust Fund could be used for other purposes. But since that was in statute and not the constitution, that requirement could be easily changed.

House Speaker Michael Busch was asked whether the House would accept the constitutional amendment, and he said, “We haven’t discussed it.”

At the end of the voting session, Budget & Taxation Committee Chair Ed Kasemeyer said, “It’s a frustrating bill to deal with,” but he did not explain why. Lobbyists trying to change the bill had been told that House leaders did not want the gas tax hike sent back with any amendments.

Editor Len Lazarick contributed to this story.

About The Author

Meg Tully

Contributing Editor Meg Tully has been covering Maryland politics for more than five years. She has worked for The Frederick News-Post, where she reported during the General Assembly session in Annapolis. She has also worked for The (Hanover) Evening Sun and interned at Baltimore Magazine. Meg has won awards from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association for her state and county writing, and a Keystone Press Award for feature writing from the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. She is a graduate of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. If you have additional questions or comments contact Meg at:


  1. ConstituentOfClowns

    With every passing bill, I spend less and less of my money in Maryland, and less of my money, period, as I foresee our august Federal Legislature passing the internet tax. Unfortunately, this only helps a little as the money printing freaks keep devaluing my dollars.

  2. hungrypirana

    This is a complex bill with several elements.

    The most interesting element is the “sales and use tax equivalent rate” increase. If the US Congress does not pass a requirement on
    behalf of states to tax internet purchases, then MD will impose its own tax increase in lieu of uncollected tax on internet purchases. I’d bet few people know the “sales and use tax equivalent rate” is now the law, and this bill would increase that tax unless Congress acts. And I wonder if this bill would increase a tax currently under challenge in State court. There are numerous theoretical grounds for such challenge.

    It’s interesting the basis for the annual increases is the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U), which
    includes gasoline/fuel in its base. Thus, the tax increase will be more responsive to increases in the underlying cost of gas compared with other CPI measures published by the Feds.

    Restrictions on transfers from the Transportation Trust Fund should be responsive to the bond-rating agency criticisms of uncontrolled TTF loans to the general fund in the recent past. However, this change is not a constitutional change because changing
    the constitution isn’t accomplished merely by passing legislation; there is a separate process needed. Moreover, the bill explicitly allows the governor to skirt the requirement for three-fifths votes in the legislature. That requirement can be overridden if a “major catastrophe occurs” and the governor declares a state of emergency. Since the term major catastrophe is not defined,
    the governor can define it himself then declare a state of emergency (happens all the time) thereby circumventing the restriction.

    • ConstituentOfClowns

      I live 35 miles from work. This bill makes me sick to my stomach. I do have a bicycle. I suppose I’ll have to start riding that to work. This state makes me tired and worn out.

  3. sickofOMalley

    “If you’re going to have this bill move forward, let the people that are paying for it – the motoring public – enjoy some of the benefits.”
    Yes, I’m sure the people of the Eastern Shore, Southern MD and the panhandle would love to pay more for roads and rails they’ll never use. Remeber this bill wouldn’t even need to exist if they didn’t raid the transportation trust fund in the first place! But because we elect spendoholic democrats year after year, this is the end result: more money out of my pocket to pay for things I don’t need. The traffic in VA is starting to look bearable.

    • Dale McNamee

      Dear SickofO’Malley,
      You wrote : ” Remeber this bill wouldn’t even need to exist if they didn’t raid the transportation trust fund in the first place! But because we elect spendoholic democrats year after year, this is the end result: more money out of my pocket to pay for things I don’t need.”. The operative phrase is ” because we elect spendaholic democrats year after year…”
      Why are the Democrats still thought of as ” being for the working class/middle class ” when they do things like this and still get re-elected ?
      I’m sorry to say that many Maryland voters are morons …

  4. abby_adams

    Why would the MOB consider giving the driving public who actually PAY the gas tax any benefit from it? Paying lip service to the needs of the many to benefit a few? Adding Miller’s lockbox provision so the legislature doesn’t steal the money won’t work. If they can create the box with the flick of a pen, they can destroy the box. just as easily. Remember folks, elections are just around the corner. Will you give your votes & hard earned $$ to support a group of individuals who care little abt the daily sacrifices you must make to continue to support high cost, ever expanding Dem programs? Just remember an 80%+ increase in gas taxes that will net a 28% increase in funding for our raggety roads & crumbling infrastructure & continue to subsidize mass transit used by 8% of MD residents. Whatta deal!

  5. Zeda F Ruhl

    This has to STOP! If they need money tell them to get it from Obama and the Muslim Brotherhood! If they don’t know what that means, tell them…MORE unemployed people…more food stamps!!! :/ NO MORE OUT OF OUR POCKETS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. cwals99

    Regarding gas tax and smart meters:

    I watched as a natural gas Waste Management truck picked up trash and I
    rode part way downtown on a green VEOLA Circulator. There are electric
    chargers in parking garages of the corporate buildings
    downtown……so, who is being made responsible for all of
    transportation costs if the gas tax funds the Trust? Not the businesses
    getting all kinds of taxpayer grants and tax breaks for buying green
    vehicles. Not affluent residents who are the only ones able to afford
    to park in the downtown garages. Not the Washington suburbs where all
    the last Transportation Trust was spent as they are ground zero for
    CLASS. Do you know that as O’Malley and Maryland Assembly say ‘trust
    us’ it will go to roads and bridges and places other than the Washington
    suburbs no news media remind you and I that O’Malley has committed to
    the high-speed rail that Third Way corporate democrats want for the
    affluent to move more easily from Washington DC to New York et al. Do
    you think that is why they didn’t vote for that ‘lock box’? OF COURSE

    Think the outcry over cancer and radiation
    is the best argument against smart meters? What if we said that smart
    meters will someday monitor how much electricity a household gets
    according to the percentage of energy bill it can pay? Those of us who
    advocate against rising energy costs like that with BGE do so because
    more and more people are falling into the category of needing subsidies
    to keep the heat or A/C on as they cannot afford to pay BGE bills.
    ‘Don’t worry….trust us’ we are told as Third Way corporate pols like
    O’Malley hand Maryland ratepayers over to mega-energy corporations with
    billion dollar a year profits. ‘We will make sure these people are
    subsidized’. Well, of course they are not going to be subsidized
    because Third Way corporate pols work for wealth and profits and the
    subsidies will go away. In comes these Smart Meters. The poor and
    working class can only afford 4 hours of energy a day…..the Smart
    Meter will allow you to choose when you get that energy….2 hours in
    the morning and 2 in the evening for example. WHEN A GOVERNMENT WORKS
    DEMOCRATIC. The other issue is the lose of yet more jobs as regards
    meter readers. We know that this last scandal with the incorrect water
    bills was caused by lack of staff…. the department was just estimating
    because it didn’t have the staff to do the work or the management to
    oversee the work. Why? Because all government revenue is being fenced
    out of government coffers with ‘gifting’ non-profits and tax breaks. Do
    we want to contract out this work because these corporate pols made it
    look like public workers are incompetent? NO, WE HAVE SEEN AN EXPLOSION

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