Owens proposes tax on cars rented at BWI

Funds would help pay for wear and tear on local roads

January 18, 2001|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens is proposing to tax rental cars at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, possibly generating $1 million annually for the county.

If approved by the General Assembly, the proposal could impose a tax of $1 or $2 per rental car as a way to pay for wear and tear on local roads caused by out-of-town drivers. Owens said she wasn't sure whether the proposal, in its early stages, would levy these amounts daily or per rental.

"Most jurisdictions that have an airport do have a local tax, and I'm always looking for revenue," Owens said.

Del. Mary Anne Love, a Democrat who represents the Glen Burnie area, said the revenue would benefit the county, especially in light of its tax ceiling.

"Of course, it's another way to get funds to the county," she said. "Also, [visitors] use our roads to come into Maryland, so we felt it was a give-back sort of thing."

Mike Johansen, an attorney who has lobbied for the Maryland Rental Car Coalition, said rental car companies would have "serious concerns" about a new tax at the airport. He said the companies pay a concession fee to the airport and that rental cars carry a sales tax.

"The bottom line is, the county executive's biggest economic engine is BWI, so perhaps she's already benefiting greatly from BWI, without having to seek a special revenue source," he said.

Seven rental car companies operate from BWI. When a new rental car facility is built in Stoney Run by 2003 as a part of the airport's expansion, it will have room for about 10 companies to operate, BWI spokesman John White said.

Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, a Linthicum Democrat, said the tax would be a creative way to increase revenue in the county. She pointed out that the county raised more than $3 million last year from increasing the parking tax at the airport's garage from 15 cents to 60 cents a car daily.

Beidle hopes that her district, which is directly affected by the airport, would get a proportion of the rental car tax revenue.

"How do we get a share of this?" she said. "If we've got all this airport congestion and fumes, maybe we need more parks or more trees or more buffer. But what do we get for this?"

Del. James E. Rzepkowski, a Republican who represents the Jessup area, agreed that the revenue should benefit area neighborhoods. But he hopes that the tax would be imposed only on visitors, not on residents who need to rent car for reasons not related to tourism.

"I think we can tweak it so it might not be as egregious as just a simple tax increase, but it really needs to be explored and fine-tuned before I would consider supporting it," said Rzepkowski, who is on the House Ways and Means Committee, which would consider the bill.

Rzepkowski also said he is concerned that the tax might have negative aspects, such as discouraging business travelers and tourists from traveling to the area.

"We're going to attract people to Maryland, Baltimore and Washington, and then we're going to slap them with a high rental car tax when they get there," he said. "That seems sort of counterproductive to me."

Neil Shpritz, executive director of BWI Business Partnership Inc., said a car rental tax is "the normal cost of business." He said taxing rental cars is becoming almost as common as a hotel tax.

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport impose county and state rental car taxes, said Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

"It's another one of those taxes that is relatively easy to apply, because you're not hitting your own constituency," Shpritz said. "And it really does not seem to deter people from renting cars in other places."

Sun staff writer Scott Calvert contributed to this article.

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