Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2007

Purple Line backers urge lawmakers to pick light rail

Transit funding report outlines means of raising money for state’s needs, including increasing fees and taxes

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ANNAPOLIS — Supporters of the Purple Line rallied in front of the State House on Tuesday calling on the state to advance a light-rail connection between Bethesda and New Carrollton.

‘‘It has to happen. We’ll never let it be forgotten down here,” Del. Sheila Ellis Hixson (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring told about 70 people.

Several lawmakers spoke to the crowd, describing reasons for supporting the project. They said it will take cars off the Capital Beltway and provide a crucial transit link for workers.

Supporters have long sought the link. The Ehrlich administration showed less enthusiasm for light rail and advanced a rapid bus connection, renaming the project the Bi-County Transitway in the process.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has expressed support for the rail line.

A rail line was estimated to cost about $1.3 billion during Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s administration, said Webb Smedley, chairman of the Coalition to Build the Inner Purple Line.

Last year, the state awarded $20 million worth of contracts to study the Purple Line proposals. A draft environmental impact statement is due soon, Smedley said. ‘‘The study has been going slower than we would like,” he said.

The route of the rail line has been in dispute. One alignment would cut through the Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, which Sen. Brian E. Frosh noted in his remarks to the audience.

‘‘We don’t want to disrupt the quiet of the neighborhoods, and we certainly don’t want to harm the golf game of the people who cherish the sport,” said Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda. ‘‘All we want is they let us play through.”

The rally came the same day the House Ways and Means Committee received a report on options on how the state can pay for its transit needs.

Over the next five years, the state will collect $5.5 billion for transportation projects, but have $6.4 billion in needs. Over the next 20 years, that shortfall grows to $13.5 billion, according to the presentation.

To make up the shortfall, the state could:

*Divert 25 percent of withholding to transportation, which would raise almost $2 billion over the five-years.

*Increase the sales tax a quarter percentage point, to 5.25 percent, raising $993 million over the five years.

*Increase the titling tax from 5 percent of a vehicle’s cost to 6 percent, raising $598 million.

*Increase the gasoline tax from 23.5 cents per gallon to 28.5 cents per gallon, raising $592 million.

*Increase the corporate income tax 1 percentage point, from 7 percent, and dedicating that revenue to the transportation trust fund, raising $578 million.

*Add a 1 percent surcharge to the income tax, raising $401 million.

*Increase the state property tax from 11.2 cents of $100 assessed value to 11.7 cents, raising $164 million.

*Increase vehicle registrations 5 percent from $50.50 per year, raising $89 million.

The report also said that for every percentage point in operating cost efficiencies, the state would save $38 million over the five years. A 3 percent annual fare increase would generate $44 million over the time span. And public-private partnerships could generate $15 million.