Montgomery County lawmakers Friday pledged to make transportation funding their top priority in the upcoming legislative session, but some say creative solutions may be needed for a measure to pass.
“The demands of economic growth, the demands of ending the terrible traffic gridlock that we face and the demands of reversing the horrific, present-day reality of climate change all point to the same thing,” state Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park told the several hundred guests at the Committee for Montgomery’s Annual Legislative Breakfast in Bethesda.
“We’ve got to get serious about mass transportation; that means we must build the Purple Line, and we need a gas tax to do it,” Raskin said.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis agreed that transportation was a top priority, but said getting a solution through the legislature likely would require cooperation from lawmakers in the state’s two largest population centers.
“To get to 71 [votes in the House] or to get to 24 [votes in the Senate] you have to have the support of people from the Baltimore region as well as the D.C. metropolitan region,” Busch said.
But each area has its own needs, Busch said. While transportation is crucial to Montgomery, education and school construction funding are important to the Baltimore area, he said.
Gaining support for one likely would entail giving support for the other, Busch said.
Further complicating matters are high gas prices and the unresolved federal budget debate and looming “fiscal cliff,” Busch said.
“Much is going to depend on what takes place in Washington, D.C., over the next couple of weeks,” he said.
But even if the nation goes over the “cliff” — a series of tax increases and spending cuts set to kick in at the beginning of the year — a transportation funding plan such as an increase in the state’s tax on gasoline was still feasible, Sen. Roger Manno (D-Dist. 19) of Silver Spring said after the breakfast.
One possibility, which Manno has proposed in the past, would be to phase in an increase that allowed local jurisdictions to keep a set portion of the revenue they raise, he said.
“How do they say no to that local money?” Manno said.
The state must avoid finding another reason to delay action on transportation, said Del. Brian J. Feldman (D-Dist. 15) of Potomac.
“We’ve had this conversation for 20 years,” he said. “We haven’t done anything in the state since [raising the gas tax] in 1992. There’s always a reason.”
In an election year, such as 2014, lawmakers probably won’t be willing to raise taxes, nor would a first-year governor want to push the issue in 2015, Feldman said.
“We need to simply act,” he said.