Higher Taxes & Tolls – A Hobson’s Choice?

Guest Post from Delegate Mark Fisher

There has been much debate in Annapolis this Session concerning tax hikes on gasoline, fees & tolls. New and ever increasing levies are all too often the Hobson’s choice offered to the citizens of Maryland. While House Bills concerning a new gasoline tax are bottled-up in the Ways & Means Committee, a recent article in the Baltimore Sun spoke of massive increases in tolls from the Maryland Transportation Authority (“MTA”).

The MTA intends to increase tolls so as to collect a minimum of $70 million from Maryland-tolled bridges, roadways and hot lanes. The justification for raising tolls is based on the idea that repairs are necessary and bond debt payments are increasing. The latter is more likely the reason for massive toll increases, as new debt is quickly accruing from the construction of the Intercounty Connector (“ICC”).

The folks who control Annapolis have framed the argument as follows: Either raise taxes on gasoline by 10 cents per gallon – OR – raise tolls. This “either – or” approach is disingenuous, particularly as working families continue to struggle through this Great Recession. It presumes that increasing energy costs on consumers or raising tolls are the only solutions available to Maryland’s growing transportation needs.

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This is folly.

There is a third solution. Several weeks ago, I introduced House Bill 1176, a Bill that authorizes a study for the privatization of the Intercounty Connector. Yes, you read that sentence correctly — let’s sell-off the ICC to a private operator! While we’re at it, let’s sell-off Maryland’s Rest-Stops as well! Don’t laugh yet, as this is a proven concept. In 2009, Connecticut entered into a public-private partnership for the State’s 23 rest stops. The windfall to that State was a whopping $178 million dollars! To date, 20 States have entered into some form of public-private agreement, resulting in billions of dollars in savings to taxpayers.

Make no mistake about House Bill 1176. Privatizing public assets such as tolled roadways and rest-stops is a solution, if and only if, there is a Constitutional Amendment that prohibits further raiding of the Transportation Trust Fund. Otherwise, monies raised from the privatization(s) will be raided and spent for items that are not related to Maryland’s transportation needs. Admittedly, these initiatives must be passed together to work effectively.

It’s time to bring Fiscal Responsibility to Annapolis. Let’s begin anew by lock-boxing taxes, fees and tolls for their intended purpose(s). Anything short of this effort, will lead to the further squandering of our children’s future — when a Hobson’s choice will be a reality.

Mark N. Fisher, Member
Maryland House of Delegates
Calvert County, District 27B
Ways & Means Committee

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