By Barry Rascovar / July 2, 2013
TAXES ON GASOLINE in Maryland went up 3.5 cents on Monday; crossing toll bridges and tunnels got a lot more expensive, especially for truckers. Fees to combat stormwater pollution kicked in as well in the greater Baltimore-Washington area.
It’s a big pill to swallow, even in a state whose leaders have felt no compunction about raising over 40 taxes, especially on businesses and the well-too-do, during the O’Malley-Brown reign in Annapolis.
Yes, the fees and taxes that commenced July 1 are necessary over the long run. We may not like it, but progress comes with a price.
Land of Toxic Living?
Would we rather watch bridges collapse, beltway congestion mushroom and pollution of streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay turn Maryland into the “Land of Toxic Living”?
It’s the timing and the size of these tax increases that are so terrible.
The burden imposed on businesses and non-profits is harmful and counter-productive. Critics have a right to mock the state’s chief executive by cynically shouting: “Pile high the taxes, Martin!”
Wait Till Later
Even worse, the first stage of the gasoline tax in Maryland pales compared with future increases dictated under the new law that could total 65 cents. The cries of anguish and anger will dog the next administration in Annapolis — a gift from the departing governor.
It didn’t have to play out this way.
A thoughtful, practical and courageous approach by political leaders in the Maryland State House would have led to action much sooner. That would have meant smaller levies phased in over time and two decades of transportation and environmental upgrades.
A Better Way
It’s no surprise that more must be spent today to stem pollution caused by stormwater runoff. If Maryland had acted sooner, the fees would have been more modest and the remediation would have been cheaper.
Instead, O’Malley & Co. waited . . . and waited . . . and waited until the Environmental Protection Agency strong-armed Maryland and other nearby states to commit to big pollution cleanups.
It also was no surprise Maryland needed more money to repair dilapidated bridges and highways. Yet no governor and no legislature in the last 20 years had the courage to do the right thing..
Gone With The Wind
Instead, they took the Scarlett O’Hara approach: They put off difficult decisions until Maryland faced a transportation crisis and construction costs had soared.
As a result, Marylanders face a raft of gas tax increases that eventually will make this state one of the costliest in the nation at the pump. The new tolls for some truckers are so severe it may put their businesses in jeopardy.
Governors and legislators also dramatically raised the cost for fixing transportation and environmental shortcomings by waiting.
Parris Didn’t Get It
Had Gov. Parris Glendening overcome his political trepidation and acted in the best, long-term interests of Maryland he would have insisted in the 1990s on a gas tax increase tied to inflation. He also would have imposed modest fees to stem sewage plant and stormwater pollution of the Chesapeake.
The same can be said of Bob Ehrlich, who jacked up transportation licensing fees instead of biting the bullet with a far larger tax increase at the pump. He deserves credit, though, for imposing an unpopular “flush tax” to modernize sewage treatment plants. It didn’t win him points with conservatives — and hurt his reelection chances — but it was the right thing to do.
O’Malley failed to seize his moment (“carpe diem”) in 2007 when he had a golden chance to ram through a gas tax increase along with slots legalization. A small environmental cleanup fee could have been tacked on at that time, too.
So Many Missed Opportunities
We could have averted the current round of tax hikes but no one in the State House took the high road. They worried about re-electability instead of Maryland’s long-term viability.
We would have had better roads and bridges, too, and a cleaner Chesapeake Bay had our political leaders acted wisely in the past. Two decades of progress in transportation and the environment were lost.
Our leaders haven’t been very courageous. We’re paying the price for that today.
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