Even as a gubernatorial panel meets to consider another big rise in the gasoline tax, the Linowes commission studying Maryland's tax structure recommends a different approach that would put less of the onus for road construction on middle-class citizens. It proposes a 2 percent tax on the annual value of an individual's motor vehicles.
How would this help the average car owner? By having the tax reflect a person's wealth, not how often he or she needs another tank of gas. Those who can afford $30,000-plus luxury autos can also afford to pay more in taxes. Those who must scrimp to buy a used car so they can get to work won't pay much of a fee. And best of all, no one would see the state's gasoline tax rise.
There's little disagreement that more revenue must be found to improve roads, bridges and mass-transit alternatives. Fast-growing counties don't have the money to keep up with the transportation pressures created by new homes and new job centers dispersed widely within their jurisdictions. The result: traffic gridlock that will worsen unless something is done.
Meanwhile, older suburban communities and Baltimore City face monumental bills to replace aging roads and bridges that are decaying rapidly. Options in the form of light-rail lines or commuter-train networks cannot be accomplished without more state tax revenue.
The Linowes commission found that 30 states -- including Virginia and West Virginia -- impose annual value-based taxes on vehicles. In Maryland, a 2 percent levy would raise $337 million annually, with the richest residents paying the most. Half the money would be returned to the counties where the car owners live; all the money would be used for transportation projects.
Benefiting most would be the jurisdiction with the biggest traffic headache: Montgomery County, which would gain $33.5 million. Other major winners would be Baltimore County ($31 million); Prince George's ($26.7 million); Anne Arundel ($19 million) and Baltimore City ($14.7 million). These amounts are in addition to the $187.3 million going yearly into state transportation projects.
One way or another, Marylanders will pay more taxes if they want streets paved, highways added and mass-transit systems created. The Linowes panel favors a method that burdens the affluent more than the middle class. That is only fair. It would add equity to this state's tax structure.
Tomorrow: Selling the tax plan in Annapolis.