Gradually tripling the sewage fee would underwrite new pollution controls at nine of the state's 67 largest sewage treatment plants, plus a handful of medium-sized wastewater plants outside of major metropolitan areas. It would also increase state funds for replacing failing household septic systems and help pay for planting trees, creating rain gardens and other projects to reduce polluted runoff from urban and suburban streets, lawns and parking lots.
The full task force did not vote on the proposal endorsed by its committee. The task force's recommendations are not due until Dec. 1.
Del. Maggie McIntosh, co-chair of the task force, who has previously weighed in favor of doubling the flush fee, said the additional funds would create badly needed jobs.
"You've got 39 percent unemployment in the building trades in the Baltimore area," noted McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat who heads the House Environmental Matters Committee. Improving wastewater treatment plants and other infrastructure projects are "the kind of thing that grows jobs," she added.
Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the House Republican leader, said he couldn't support any increase in the flush fee.
"Some of the problems these folks are dealing with are real problems, and I understand that. But the solution cannot be to tax citizens more and more," said O'Donnell, who represents Calvert and St. Mary's counties. "We're in the worst economic times since the Great Depression. People are out of work, people can't pay their bills, credit card and mortgage defaults are through the roof."
What emerged from the transportation panel's nearly two years of deliberation were specific proposals, setting the stage for what could be a lively debate over the state's highway and transit priorities.
The commission recommended:
•A 15-cent increase in the gas tax, phased in by 5 cents a year over three years. The panel urged that at the end of that period the tax be indexed to inflation.
•A 50 percent increase in the vehicle registration fee, expected to raise $165 million.
•An increase in the vehicle titling tax from 6 percent to 6.5 percent, or the elimination of an allowance for traded-in vehicles that has reduced the amount car buyers owe. Either is expected to raise $70 million.
•An increase in Maryland Transit Administration fares, which have remained frozen during the O'Malley administration. The panel's recommendation echoes a call by the legislature for the agency to increase fares to move closer to its statutory goal of paying for 35 percent of its expenses with fares. The increases -- which would affect bus, light rail, MARC and metro service -- are expected to raise $26 million.
•An increase in the fee for a vehicle emissions inspection from $14 to $28, expected to yield $22 million.
The commission urged the legislature to amend the state Constitution to bar transfers of these transportations revenues for non-transportation purposes. In the interim, the panel urged lawmakers to adopt strict statutory limits permitting borrowing from the transportation trust fund only in an emergency and with a plan for repayment.
Sun reporter Annie Linskey contributed to this article.