February 5, 2013
Maryland House Minority Leader calls for delay of Red, Purple lines
Baltimore Business Journal

By Gary Haber

The top Republican in the state House of Delegates called Monday for a delay in the Red Line and Purple Line transit projects.

The Red Line in Baltimore and the Purple Line linking Mongtomery and Prince George’s counties should be put on hold until Maryland’s economy improves, House Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell said at the Greater Baltimore Committee’s General Assembly Legislative Forum.

“We can’t shock the economy,” O’Donnell, R-St. Mary’s and Calvert counties, told the audience of several hundred businesspeople at the Renaissance Inner Harbor hotel. “The citizens are hurting. They can’t take any more tax increases.”

Transportation funding is one of the major items on the General Assembly’s agenda as lawmakers struggle to come up with ways to raise the $700 million to $800 million needed to fund road construction and mass transportation projects.

Gov. Martin O’Malley has floated the idea of raising the state sales tax by a penny to fund transportation projects, although he has yet to introduce a bill this session. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. last week proposed a 3-cent sales tax on gasoline that would raise about $300 million annually for road construction and repair. Miller also wants to give municipalities the option of imposing a regional tax to pay for mass transit projects in their areas, like the Red and Purple lines.

State officials have said that without more money they won’t be able to do more than maintain existing projects rather than launch new projects.

But raising either the gas tax, or applying some or all of Maryland’s 6 percent sales tax to gasoline purchases could be a tough sell this session, said Sen. Richard Madaleno Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat who serves on the Senate Budget and Taxation committee.

“I don’t know if all of my colleagues are ready for another increase,” Madaleno said.
Meanwhile, O’Donnell said too much of the state’s Transportation Trust Fund is spent on mass transit which does not benefit people living in rural areas who don’t use it.

Mass transit is “eating” Transportation Trust Fund dollars, O’Donnell said.

Transit fares pay only about 20 percent of the cost of rides on mass transit, he said. Instead, drivers fund the vast majority of the trust fund through the gas tax and vehicle registration fees and title fees. Lawmakers should “rebalance” spending from the fund, so that more goes to new roads and road improvements, O’Donnell said.

O’Malley has yet to introduce a proposed transportation funding package this session. But Matthew Gallagher, O’Malley’s chief of staff, said at Monday’s forum that a consensus is building among lawmakers in Annapolis that “something very much needs to be done.”

“We remain interested and committed and willing to do something,” Gallagher said.