Transit package to rely on registration fees

Ehrlich plan doesn't raise gasoline or titling taxes

General Assembly

February 13, 2004|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will announce a long-awaited $250 million transportation revenue package today that will not raise gasoline or titling taxes but will rely heavily on increased registration fees.

The package will fall short of the $300 million a year called for by a task force led by former Transportation Secretary William K. Hellmann -- a goal Ehrlich had endorsed. The money will shore up the state's Transportation Trust Fund, which has been depleted by rising costs and diversions of money to balance the state budget.

Paul E. Schurick, a top aide to Ehrlich, said raising the full $300 million proved unnecessary because the state has recently seen an unexpected increase in transportation revenues of more than $50 million.

"The governor believes this is a balanced and responsible revenue package," Schurick said.

He said the largest component of the revenue package will be an increase in registration fees, which are expected to bring in $150 million in additional money each year. He said the average increase would be about $23.50 a year, with smaller cars paying less than larger vehicles.

Higher fines on drunken drivers will also be a component of the plan. He will call for shifting some money now collected in car rental taxes from general use to transportation.

The governor had ruled out an increase in the 23.5-cent-a- gallon gasoline tax weeks ago, after Republican legislators expressed opposition. The titling tax remained on the table until recently, but it faced vehement opposition from auto dealers -- a strong constituency for Ehrlich.

Schurick acknowledged that the administration consulted widely with legislators of both parties, but not with the Democratic leadership.

The package could face opposition from General Assembly Democrats, many of whom consider a gas tax the fairest way to raise transportation revenue. Gas tax proponents say it is the only revenue-raiser that brings in money from out-of-state drivers as well as Maryland residents.

Del. Peter Franchot, chairman of a House subcommittee on transportation spending, said business groups will be dismayed that Ehrlich stopped short of raising the full $300 million.

"It's ducking his responsibilities, and it's a huge disappointment to everyone who's concerned with the transportation infrastructure," the Montgomery County Democrat said.

Franchot said he doubts that much of the package will be approved -- especially if the governor refuses to negotiate with Democratic leaders on education funding.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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