The head of the local chamber of commerce expressed mixed feelings toward Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposal to add a sales tax to the cost of gasoline, but said she would reserve full judgment until he presents a bill to the legislature.
Claire Louder, the President and CEO of the West Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce in Odenton, said she was pleased to see the governor consider raising new money for transportation, but wanted to see specific details on how it could be used.
A broad coalition of business groups, including the chamber, has endorsed a 15-cent increase on the gas tax to help raise more than $800 million for transportation improvements in the state. It has been a particularly hot local issue due to the recent expansion of Fort Meade.
O’Malley’s plan, announced Monday, calls for a 6 percent gas tax on top of the existing 23.5 cent flat tax. At current prices, the price of gas would rise by about 20 cents.
“There’s definitely a need for an investment,” Louder said. “But 15 cents was already a lot and now we’re talking about more than that. It just may be more than people can stomach.”
But, she said that even an additional 20 cents per gallon of gasoline would be less than the current cost of waiting in traffic on congested roads, and that infrastructure improvements would create jobs.
“It would help a hard-hit industry, and it's an investment in our infrastructure,” she said.
Louder said she’d like to know more on whether O’Malley would support a measure protecting all money in the Transportation Trust Fund from being used for any other purpose. Such a measure is “non-negotiable,” she said, because tens of millions of dollars has been diverted from the trust fund over the years to pay for other needs in the state.
“I think there’s a degree of caution, because we have to restore some trust in the transportation trust fund, and sales tax does not automatically confer that it’s going into the trust fund in the same manner,” as the gas tax, she said.