“I understand none of you are happy about the gas tax. I am not happy about the gas tax,” said Delegate John Bohanan (D: 29B) Monday at the Ridge firehouse at the second of three town hall meetings to talk about the just concluded 2013 Maryland General Assembly. The delegate, who represents the lower portion of St. Mary’s County, was the only member of the county delegation to vote for the gas tax increase although he noted that the majority of the Southern Maryland Delegation supported it.
Bohanan pointed out that the state’s Transportation Trist fund will run out of money in 2017 while the demand for projects increases. Although critics of the tax increase contend the bulk of the extra monies will go toward mass transit, Bohanan said he was told by senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller (D: Calvert) that monies would be added to the Six-Year Consolidated Transportation Plan in September for the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge project, the number-one regional transportation priority. That is just one of the state-wide projects costing $12-15 billion that need funding, he said.
Several members of the audience of about two dozen people criticized the delegate for supporting the gas tax increase. But Bohanan challenged the audience to come up with an alternative. He said the only other alternative was to use some other tax source, such as increasing income taxes.
Bohanan downplayed the criticism that the transportation funding pot was depleted because it had been raided for use in the general fund. He said the amount raided since 1984 was $578 million and the fund had been replenished by more than that amount.
Bohanan said if gas prices increase dramatically future legislatures could repeal the increase. The first part of the increase kicks in in July – about four cents per gallon. He said that equates to about $30 a year for persons that drive 15,000 miles a year, or about $2 a month.
The delegate, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said other than education funding, state expenditures have been relatively flat in recent years. He explained that of the $38 billion state budget only $16 billion is available for general fund expenditures. The rest is for special funds, such as revenue from students paying for higher education, which he said was a good thing for the state.
Bohanan said general fund expenditures have increased from $14 billion to $16 billion over the last six years and of that almost half goes to education. He said the state’s K-12 education system has been ranked the best in the country for several years running.
Roy Feddders said he didn’t see any positive results from the state’s focus on education funding, pointing out the problems at Spring Ridge Middle School with the fire last week. Bohanan noted that he