ANNAPOLIS -- Members of a task force set up to review Maryland's transportation revenue problems agreed last night that the state faces a serious shortfall, but could not agree what to do about it.
The 15-member Transportation Revenue Committee, headed by former state Transportation Secretary William K. Hellmann, could only agree to let Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the 1991 General Assembly decide whether to raise the state's gas tax and by how much.
The Department of Transportation had asked the committee to recommend to the governor tax and fee increases to raise an additional $1.5 billion over the next five years.
Most of the money would come from a proposed 5 percent sales tax that would be applied to the total sales price of gasoline, including whatever taxes already are included.
In addition, the department had proposed that the current 18.5-cents-a-gallon gas tax be raised to 21.5 cents. But last night, noting opposition to that provision, the department offered these alternatives:
* An increase from 5 to 5 1/2 percent in vehicle titling taxes.
* A 20 percent increase in the $27-a-year vehicle registration fee for all vehicles weighing less than 26,000 pounds.
* Shifting for the next two years from 30 percent to 15 percent the local share of revenue the state would collect from the proposed 5 percent sales tax on fuel.
* Increasing some Motor Vehicle Administration and Department of Transportation fees.
But committee members could not agree whether to endorse a five-year transportation program at the $1.5 billion level, much less how that much money should be raised.
Several said that whatever they might do to remedy problems with declining transportation revenues was too intertwined with what the governor and the legislature may decide to do to balance the budget.
"I'm not ready at this time to recommend or support any particular program level or revenue source," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Charles J. Ryan Jr., D-Prince George's. "I don't want to say we're going to build a road, and do away with a kidney dialysis program."
But Deputy Transportation Secretary Stephen Zentz told the committee that the Transportation Trust Fund is so depleted that no new projects would be started in Maryland in the next 18 months if the legislature does not approve new revenue.
"Once the momentum is lost, it is very, very difficult to catch up," added Budget Secretary Charles L. Benton Jr.