During his sixth State of the State speech, Gov. Martin O'Malley focused on jobs, taxes and what he called tough choices.
"Asking our fellow citizens to do more will not be popular," said O'Malley. "But without anger, fear or meanness, let’s ask one another: how much less education do we think would be good for our children’s future? How much less education do we want? How much less public safety? How many fewer jobs? There are costs, and there are values."
O'Malley briefly touched on the gas tax—the most anticipated portion of his message—in his nearly 33-minute address to legislators gathered in the House of Delegates chamber Wednesday. The governor said a bill would be filed in the next couple days.
"With a growing population and aging infrastructure, we might soon pay an even steeper price," said O'Malley. "Bridges are not like trees. They do not grow broader and stronger with age."
Seeking to increase transportation funding for construction and repair projects that would create jobs, O'Malley intends to submit a bill repealing the 6 percent sales tax exemption on a gallon of gasoline—phasing it out by 2 percent each year unless the price of gas spikes.
At current prices, opponents estimate that the change would add 18 cents per gallon to the 23 cents in state gas taxes.
The additional revenue would create "7,500 new jobs building needed roads, bridges and public transit" in Maryland, said O'Malley.
"Now look, I know that every family is still feeling the hurt of this recession," said O'Malley. "The people I serve are the people you serve. I know this is a very, very difficult ask. But nobody else is going to do this for us except for us."
Republicans in the House and Senate criticized O'Malley for policies they said will hurt the same middle-class working families the governor said he wants to help.
"On one hand, (O'Malley) talks jobs; and on the other hand, he kills jobs with higher taxes," said Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, an upper Eastern Shore Republican.
Pipkin said most of the transportation funding has gone toward transit projects that only three percent of state residents use.
"Before we have a discussion about raising taxes, we should examine how government spends the money," said Pipkin.
On Tuesday, the governor blogged about transportation projects, jurisdiction by jurisdiction, that could be impacted by what he said would be $613 million raised through the tax over three years. In Anne Arundel County, he cited widening and improving MD Route 175 between the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and MD Route 170. In Howard County, he pointed to widening and/or increasing safety on MD 32 from MD 108 to the Carroll County line.
During his speech on Feb. 1, O'Malley told legislators he has taken a balanced approach to managing the state's finances during the recession, including making nearly $800 million in cuts and spending reductions in the current budget. Since he took office, the governor said nearly $7.5 billion cuts and reductions have been made in state spending.
Critics said those numbers are misleading.
"He's misguiding the public with those words, and words mean a lot," said Del. Sue Aumann, a Baltimore County Republican and member of the House Appropriations Committee. "Our budget every year has gone up $1 billion, and we have a perpetual deficit of $1 billion."
Said Aumann: "The bank of citizens is running dry."
Capital News Service reporters Dave Nyczepir and Mali Krantz and Elkridge Patch editor Elizabeth Janney contributed to this story.