WASHINGTON – Maryland would lose $21 million in surplus federal gas tax revenues under President Clinton’s proposed budget for fiscal 2001, but state officials don’t seem to mind.
State officials and highway advocates both say the state is more than making up for the loss of the funds with other transportation projects identified in Clinton’s budget.
“[The loss] will not have much of an effect,” said Robert Latham, executive director of Marylanders for Safe Efficient Highways. “But we do gain in transportation dollars coming back.”
The loss of gas tax revenues would almost be made up by two transit projects alone: Clinton proposed a total of $20 million to extend the Washington Metro’s Blue Line to Largo and to double-track Baltimore’s light rail. The administration has also proposed funding for a new Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge, for a new transit center at the Silver Spring Metro station and for MARC improvements and extensions.
“While all federal funds are important, $21 million will not at all cripple Maryland’s transportation projects,” said Jack Cahalan, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation. “This is an amount we can easily adjust for.”
Two years ago, Congress passed and the president signed the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), which called for any surplus in the federal gas tax to be sent to state transportation coffers. Each state’s share of the surplus was to be proportionate to the share of federal gas taxes that came from the state.
But Clinton’s budget would redirect the total $1.3 billion surplus in gas taxes to federal projects and agencies, including high-speed rail, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Internal Revenue Service.
That has angered leaders of the House committee that authored TEA-21, who said they would work to give the money back to the states.
Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Tuesday that he would fight the president on any changes to the revenue distribution.
“We don’t support it,” said Scott Brenner, a Shuster spokesman. “States know best where to spend transportation dollars and they shouldn’t have people in Washington telling them what to do.”
A leading Democrat on the committee agrees. A spokesman for the ranking Democrat, Minnesota Rep. James Oberstar, said the congressman hopes the president will stick with the agreement outlined by TEA 21.
“That bill set aside gas tax revenues for transportation projects,” said Jim Berard, the spokesman. “If more comes in it should go to the states, not (be) taken from them.”
Maryland’s share of the surplus would be just below the nationwide average. While Cahalan says that Maryland’s share of the surplus is not substantial, he also protests any change to bills like TEA-21 that would prevent states from spending money in a way they see fit.
“The budget still has to go to Capitol Hill,” he said. “I’m certain Maryland’s congressional delegation will fight for Maryland’s fair share.”