More money needed for roads, mass transit

Assembly issue: Governor, legislature must find way to raise extra cash for transportation

January 13, 1999

IN A TIME of plenty, it's ironic that Maryland's governor and legislators are talking about raising taxes. Yet there is a pressing need to spend more in a key area: transportation.

While Maryland's general revenue funds are flush -- mainly from fast-rising income-tax and sales-tax receipts -- the flow of gas-tax money into the transportation trust fund hasn't kept pace with road and mass-transit demands.

Unless something is done quickly, Maryland won't have cash for light rail and highways and to replace the crumbling Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, in a political move, pledged four years ago not to raise the gasoline tax in his first term. But as his second term commences, the governor has changed his tune. The demands for road and transit improvements are clear.

Top lawmakers, who convene today in Annapolis, say they support higher levies for transportation projects. Yet there is no agreement on how to do it.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. has floated one plan to extend the sales tax to catalog and Internet purchases and another to raise the sales tax to 6 percent. In each plan, the extra money would be used for mass transit. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller says he would support a higher gas tax.

We disagree with Mr. Taylor on raising the sales tax rate. It isn't necessary. Extending the sales tax's reach makes more sense.

A modest rise in the gas tax, given the low gasoline prices these days, could be justified, too. This is a form of user fee for drivers.

Still, transportation needs are so great that another revenue source will be required.

Here's a way out: Dedicate a slice of the existing 5 percent sales tax to transportation. This would recognize that transportation is a concern for all Marylanders.

No tax increase would be involved. This approach might cut into Maryland's projected surplus, but it is affordable.

Maryland's fine transportation network is a selling point for businesses. Major highways, though, are jammed. Suburb-to-suburb roads must be built. More bus routes are essential. Baltimore lacks a true rapid transit network.

And yet we are running out of money to match federal transportation grants. Soaring operating costs of subway and light rail lines are devouring cash needed for construction projects.

Annapolis should use existing taxes to meet this problem. With Maryland's economy still expanding nicely, it is time to earmark a portion of the sales tax for transportation. That would provide a long-term answer without squeezing taxpayers unnecessarily.

UNSCOM accused of working

Spy charge: Finding the weapons that Saddam Hussein hid took espionage of a high order.

OF COURSE the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) spied on Iraq. How else could it fulfill its mission?

The organization of technical experts from several countries tried valiantly to discover Iraq's chemical and biological weapons and missile delivery systems. Saddam Hussein, Iraq's dictator, threw every obstacle in its path.

On its face, Iraq's spying charges were always true. That's why UNSCOM was created by the U.N. Security Council.

But the spying charge was never a reason to drop UNSCOM or to end the sanctions that respond to the continued concealment of weapons of mass destruction.

A little candor has come out about UNSCOM because some believe that after the bombing of Iraq, it will not be allowed to return. Among the reports: U.S. intelligence agencies planted a high-tech listening device through UNSCOM and shared the resulting intelligence.

It would be wrong for UNSCOM to gather intelligence for U.S. purposes that were not approved by the Security Council, such as the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But it is right for U.S. agencies to help UNSCOM retrieve data that UNSCOM and the United States want.

The real rap against UNSCOM is that it worked. This week, chief U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler suggested inspections will resume. They should.

Without effective weapons inspections, the loser is the United Nations. The winner is the deceitful dictator Saddam Hussein.

Disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction remains the goal. Iraq's threat to its neighbors has not disappeared.

Driving without a license

Courthouse sting: Howard County operation to apprehend lawbreakers protects motoring public.

STINGS used by Howard County and the Maryland State Police to catch people driving with suspended licenses leave some people vaguely uncomfortable. It shouldn't.

Some liken the setup to the old speed traps that were prevalent before the interstates made it easier to avoid the small towns that ran them. Back then, a town could easily raise revenue by posting a traffic officer near a speed-limit sign. Motorists who applied the brakes too late had to pay the price.

Traffic safety was the dubious goal of the old speed traps; safer roads is more clearly the object of today's operation to catch drivers with suspended licenses.

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