Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said Friday that he expects Gov. Martin O'Malley to introduce a transportation revenue bill of his own -- a move that would raise the likelihood Marylanders will be paying higher taxes on gasoline later this year.
Commenting after the Senate wound up its debate on the death penalty for the day, Miller predicted O'Malley would have his bill in Monday -- the last day a bill can be introduced without a supermajority vote.
Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for O'Malley, declined to confirm Miller's statement, saying the governor's office had nothing to announce.
Miller's statement came a day after he met with the governor and House Speaker Michael E. Busch to discuss how to raise money for the depleted Transportation Trust Fund -- a topic that appears likely to become the most debated issue of the final weeks of the legislative session.
State transportation officials say they will run out of money for anything other than basic maintenance and operation expenses by 2018. Already there is a backlog of billions of dollars of projects that haven't been started for lack of funds.
The Senate president has been pressing the governor for weeks to introduce his own bill to match legislation Miller put forward early in the session. O'Malley, who submitted his own plan last year only to see it rejected, has resisted those pleas, preferring to work out a consensus in staff-level negotiations with the legislative leadership.
The impetus for a Maryland transportation bill picked up steam a week ago when Virginia -- with a Republican governor and a GOP-controlled legislature -- passed a revenue package worth more than $850 million a year. Traffic congestion is a major concern in the Washington suburbs of both states, which frequently compete for businesses that consider transportation an important factor in location decisions.
Early this week Busch said House Democratic leaders were working on a plan to raise at least $600 million a year.
Miller has proposed applying a 3 percent sales tax to gas as well as allowing counties and Baltimore to add up to 5 cents a gallon to the state's 23.5-cent gas tax. O'Malley has suggested that the public might find an increased general sales tax less unpalatable than a higher tax on gas.
Any increased taxation is likely to face strong public opposition. Polling has shown that while voters consider transportation an important issue, they are unwilling to pay increased taxes for roads, bridges and mass transit.
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