Putting aside their usual abhorrence of higher taxes, Baltimore and Washington business groups endorsed an increase in the state's 23 1/2 -cent-per-gallon gasoline tax last night while opposing any effort to limit the use of that revenue to building and maintaining roads.
The positions taken by the Greater Baltimore Committee and Greater Washington Board of Trade put them somewhat at odds with the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, which supported a 5-cent increase in the gas tax but asked that it be dedicated to highway projects.
Kathleen T. Snyder, president of the chamber, said her group is taking that position because it has a statewide constituency, while the other groups represent urban areas.
Representatives of the three groups, who testified before a public hearing of a transportation task force in Annapolis last night, all endorsed the state Department of Transportation's position that it needs $300 million in additional revenue.
Saying that "transportation funding is never seriously looked upon until there is a crisis," Greater Baltimore Committee President Donald C. Fry warned that the metropolitan region is not far behind the Washington suburbs in congestion.
Fry urged members of the commission headed by former state Transportation Secretary William K. Hellmann to support an increase in the gas tax along with other revenue-raisers, including a higher vehicle registration fee.
Robert A. Peck, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, told the commission that a gasoline tax increase is the fairest way to raise an estimated $300 million in additional money the state Department of Transportation says it needs annually.
"Unlike other options, a gasoline tax would help ensure that the more someone uses Maryland's transportation network, the more he or she will pay for its maintenance and upkeep," Peck said in written testimony.
The organization did not specify how much of an increase it supports, but raising $300 million entirely from the gas tax would require a 10-cent increase, according to the Transportation Department.
Peck noted that a gasoline tax would affect all drivers who fuel their cars in Maryland.
He said the group is cool toward raising the registration fee. Peck said it does not distinguish between commuters and infrequent drivers.