Gov. William Donald Schaefer says he is not wedded to a 5 percent sales tax on gasoline as a way of restocking the nearly depleted state transportation construction fund.
"If we can get the same amount of money by a different way, a different tax, I am amenable to that, but I do think it's important," Schaefer told reporters yesterday.
The governor said in his State of the State address Friday he wanted to levy a 5 percent sales tax on gasoline. Transportation officials have warned that many highway projects planned and under way may not be completed without more funding.
"If the people . . . want to continue to build the roads and bridges . . . they must be willing to pay for it," Schaefer reiterated yesterday.
Broadening the state's 5 percent sales tax to include gasoline would add a few pennies more than a nickel -- depending on the market price -- onto the flat 18.5 cents already levied by the state on a gallon of gas.
A special committee appointed by Schaefer to look into ways of raising more than $1 billion in revenue for the state's ambitious but money-poor transportation programs recommended, among other things, a sales tax, an increase from 5 percent to 5 1/2 percent in vehicle titling fees, a 20 percent increase in registration fees for most vehicles, and boosting some Department of Transportation and Motor Vehicle Administration fees.
Before his State of the State message, the governor reportedly was considering a sales tax on gasoline and an increase in the current 18 1/2 -cent levy on each gallon.
"The primary objective is to get the money to build the roads," he said. "If the legislature feels the direct tax is better than the sales tax, whatever in the wisdom of the legislature they give us is fine with me."
Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, whose department will draft and lobby for revenue increases, said yesterday he is unsure of the content of the administration bill since he has yet to get specific instructions.
Steinberg and others in the legislative arm of the Schaefer administration reportedly were caught off guard last week when the governor mentioned the gas tax in his speech before a joint session of lawmakers. The day before, Steinberg told reporters at a briefing he did not expect Schaefer to announce a gas tax during the annual speech.
Yesterday, Schaefer denied there was a lack of communication between him and Steinberg.
"No disarray," he said. "He knew about it . . . because I discussed both proposals with him. So it wasn't any big surprise with him."
In the meantime, state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein advised the governor that it would be easier for the state to collect additional gas-sale revenues from wholesale distributors than from the thousands of gas retailers around the state.
The governor also continued his push for legislative enactment of an $800 million tax package recommended by the Linowes Commission.
He said he wants legislators to support the whole package and even could back a tax on legal services the commission shied away from.