Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Speed Bumps on the Gas Tax Highway

The folks over at Americans for Prosperity have released a poll on the gas tax proposed by Maryland Democrats, and to the surprise of absolutely nobody, the Miller Tax Plan will cost jobs here in Maryland:

Maryland will lose 959 jobs and $124.4 million in economic activity, if Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's transportation funding plan passes, according to a study released Wednesday.

The study, “The Effects of a Gas Tax on Maryland’s Middle Class," was commissioned by Americans for Prosperity Maryland, the Hanover-based affiliate of a national group linked to the tea party. It was produced by Baltimore-based Sage Policy Group.

Maryland should consider alternative funding mechanisms to raise money for transportation projects, including higher tolls during certain periods of the day, high occupancy/toll lanes or higher vehicle registration fees, the reports says.

Those losses are predicated on the idea that the gas tax would only be raised by 3%; that says nothing about a potential higher increase enacted by the General Assembly. And of course it isn't the only study out there which talks about the harm this gas sales tax will do to middle and working class families.

Now in a state such as Maryland, where job-killing taxes are the rule not the exception, the idea that the General Assembly would consider a 3%, 5%, of flat 10-cent tax hike on gas really does not shock people. Nor does it shock people when Democratic leadership considers indexing the gas tax to inflation instead of leaving it as a flat rate. But Democrats continuously stick to their arguments that a gas tax hike is necessary in order to pay for infrastructure improvements and to pay for the expansion of mass transit through the construction of the DC Area Purple Line and the Baltimore Red Line.

Past experience however, leads one to believe that these job losses would wind up in vain:
  • Time and time again Maryland Republicans have introduced legislation that would create a lockbox for Transportation funding. Why? Because time after time Governors have raided the Transportation Trust fund in order to cover funding shortfalls in other areas. In fact since 2003 over $1 BILLION has been reallocated from the Transportation Trust fund to general fund spending. I don't expect SB 253 to go very far this year, but year after the year the same amendment is re-introduced because year after year the fund gets raided to balance the budget.
  • Do you remember the Audit over at the Department of Transportation last year? We do. If we are are raising additional money to give to the MDOT to cover the costs of transportation projects, what has changed that ensures Maryland taxpayers that the money will be spent in a legal and ethical manner?
  • A huge chunk of the proposed revenue would be dedicated to Maryland Transit Administration expansion projects, particularly the proposed Purple and Red Lines. You'll notice that we have an entire label of stories that detail at length MTA Incompetence, with stories that range from poor service, delays caused by autumndrivers using their buses as toilets, using stimulus money to buy hybrid-electric buses2010's Train Ride from Hell, rewarding students for not misbehavingwoeful farebox recovery rates and issues with crime. A bad situation, that of higher gas tax rates, will be made even worse solely due to the fact that the agency to whom the revenues are being earmarked is beyond incompetent.
  • The Democrats plan calls for additional construction of Mass Transit projects, but not once does it call for the serious addition of added lane miles to solve ridiculous highway congestion, nor does it even guarantee that any of the increased revenues will be dedicated to highway maintenance and construction.
  • And finally, one of my pet issues, privatization. I have called on the state of Maryland to privatize operation of our toll roads and our mass transit systems for use. Mike Miller's bill does call for the privatization of the Intercounty Connector, but does not take the additional aggressive step to call for the privatization of the Harbor Tunnel, Fort McHenry Tunnel, John F. Kennedy Higway, Harry Nice Bridge, or the Bay Bridge. Nor does it address the idea of allowing for the Purple or Red Lines to be built and operated by private companies in lieu of government investment.
And that gives us the two-headed monster of any potential gas tax increase; the knowledge that a tax increase will disproportionately harm middle and working class Marylanders, while at the same time understanding that the monies collected by any additional gas-related revenue enhancements will be either squandered, mismanaged or reallocated. 

And as the Democrats continue to raise taxes, they will continue to wonder why businesses like Virginia so much better....

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