Heavy burden placed on Shore drivers

Originally published in DelmaraNow.com

Marc Kilmer Jan 13, 2013

Claiming that the state’s transportation infrastructure is in dire need of more funding, the governor and his allies in the General Assembly have made it one of their top priorities during this year’s legislative session to increase the state’s gas tax.

We need to watch their wallets, since this tax hike will hit us hard and do little to benefit our area.

Right now, the state’s gas tax is already a disproportionate burden on Lower Shore drivers. That’s because the average rural driver has a lower income and drives more miles than the average driver in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore suburbs.

Many people think of gas taxes as a form of user fee: Drivers pay a gas tax and that revenue is used for the construction and upkeep of the roads these drivers use. That’s what the governor, legislators and lobbyists who support the gas tax want you to believe, but don’t be fooled.

When you look at how the state actually allocates its transportation funding, it quickly becomes clear the interests of transit riders, not car or truck drivers, is of paramount importance.

Last year, the Maryland Public Policy Institute published a study by transportation experts Wendell Cox and Ronald Utt titled “Rethinking Maryland’s Proposed Gas Tax Increase.”

These authors pointed out that “in 2009 … 48 percent of the highway and transit spending was on transit, 20 times the statewide transit travel share of 4 percent.”

The way the Maryland Department of Transportation spends our gas tax dollars is heavily skewed towards transit, which primarily benefits the Washington, D.C., suburbs and areas around Baltimore.

But the gas tax that provides much of the funding for these projects falls most heavily on the state’s rural residents.

There is certainly a backlog in roads maintenance and construction in the state. The best way to solve this problem is not to raise taxes. Instead, the state should shift money away from transit projects that benefit only a tiny slice of Marylanders and toward the roads that most of us use.

It makes little sense to force lower-income rural drivers to subsidize mass transit for a small majority of wealthier riders from the suburbs, but this is exactly what the current gas tax does.

Will our Lower Shore legislators make this situation worse by supporting the governor’s proposal to increase the gas tax?

Marc Kilmer of Salisbury is a senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute, a public policy think tank based in Rockville, Md.