ANNAPOLIS -- The incoming state secretary of transportation said yesterday that his agency will need from $1 billion to $1.5 billion in new revenue over the next five years just to keep from "going backward."
That would translate into the equivalent of an increase in the current Maryland gasoline tax of from 8.5 cents to 12.5 cents per gallon. But a governor's panel is also considering several other -- ways to raise new money from motorists for the state's Transportation Trust Fund.
"The revenue situation right now is critical," said O. James
Lighthizer, the former Anne Arundel County executive named to be the new transportation secretary. He told reporters following a meeting of the Governor's Transportation Revenue Committee, which he is a new member, "We're in the position right now that if we don't have revenue enhancements, we're going [to go] backward."
Transportation officials have told the panel that projected trust fund revenue over the next five years has declined by $521 million. That means, they said, the state will not have enough money to build all the transportation projects it has already planned.
The budget crunch led Gov. William Donald Schaefer earlier this month to suspend plans to launch $330 million worth of highway improvements, bridge overhauls and construction work for 30 to 45 days. Without new money, officials said, some of those projects may have to be canceled.
State transportation officials told panel members that Maryland needs to raise an additional $500 million by 1996 just to cover the anticipated deficit in revenue for already planned programs.
Another $500 million, they said, would be needed over five years to launch critically needed maintenance projects for existing roads, bridges and mass transit facilities.
Only with about $1.5 billion in new revenue, they said, could the state start building new highways and transit systems that will be needed.
Mr. Lighthizer, who will become the new transportation secretary Jan. 1, said he would like to have $2 billion to "really go to town" building mass transit projects, which he strongly advocates.
But several state officials have said the slack economy and an anti-tax mood may make even a modest tax increase difficult to sell to the legislature this year.
Stephen G. Zentz, deputy secretary of transportation, suggested that besides an increase in the gas tax, the panel could recommend:
* Increasing the automobile titling tax from 5 percent to 5.5 percent.
* Raising registration fees, which now average about $27, by 25 percent.
* Escalating 11 separate fees charged by the Motor Vehicle Administration -- for example, increasing the cost of a used-car title from $3 to $12.
Transportation officials also suggested that the state might reap $10 million with an increase in truck fees or might add a 5 percent sales tax to gasoline -- on top of the flat 18.5 cents-per-gallon the state currently charges.
A similar gasoline sales tax -- which, unlike the flat per-gallon tax, would raise more revenue as the price of gasoline rose -- was proposed and rejected by the General Assembly when it raised the gasoline tax by a nickel in 1987.
Mr. Lighthizer said yesterday that he thought the sales tax was a realistic option.
The panel plans to recommend a package of revenue increases to the governor before the 1992 General Assembly convenes Jan. 9.