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Maryland House votes for bill to direct $750M for transportation needs

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland House passed a measure on Monday aimed at transferring $750 million over a decade for a transportation fund, part of the push by Democrats who control the House to raise revenue for transportation and education.

With three weeks to go, lawmakers reached the point in the state’s legislative session when measures they hope to pass this year are generally expected to be approved by at least one chamber. It's more of a guideline than a binding rule. Measures can still make it to the governor's desk, even if they have not been passed by one chamber at this point.

The House voted 91-42 for the Maryland Toll Rate Reform Act of 2024, sending the measure to the Senate, which hasn’t expressed support for much of the House’s $1.3 billion package. The bill would require the Maryland Transportation Authority to transfer $75 million each year starting July 1, 2025, into a fund for transportation.

Del. Marc Korman, a Democrat who chairs the House Environment and Transportation Committee, said the measure seeks to repay the $750 million that was used from the state's Transportation Trust Fund to pay for the Intercounty Connector in the suburbs of the nation's capital. Korman said it was one part of the House's plan, which delegates unveiled last week, to raise about $1.3 billion for transportation and education.

“So this is one piece of the puzzle," Korman said. “You’ll hear about more pieces this week, if you haven’t read the papers, of what the House wants to try to do to address this broader challenge.”

Republicans who voted against the bill said it will simply lead to toll increases around the state.

“It will directly lead to monies accumulated in funds used for toll maintenance, toll financing and toll financing construction to in fact be diverted, most likely to be diverted into mass transit,” said Del. Jason Buckel, a western Maryland Republican who is the House minority leader.

Maryland's transportation finances are under considerable strain. In December, Gov. Wes Moore's administration proposed a $3.3 billion cut to the state's six-year spending plan for transportation. Earlier this year, Moore announced the restoration of $150 million of that.

The House plan also aims to address the state’s transportation funding woes by raising the vehicle excise tax from 6% to 6.5% and adjusting a vehicle trade-in exemption to apply only when a vehicle is traded in for a zero-emissions or hybrid vehicle. It also would raise revenues by changing vehicle registration fees, based on new weight classifications, and imposing a statewide ride-sharing fee of 75 cents.

On Saturday, the House passed a measure 92-43 to legalize internet gambling, which would make casino games available for wagering online. The bill, which would help pay for education, would require a three-fifths vote in the Senate to put it on the ballot for voters to decide in a constitutional amendment in November. A separate Senate measure to legalize online gambling hasn’t budged. Legalizing internet gambling makes up an estimated $300 million of the House revenue package.

Meanwhile, all but one measure in Moore's legislative agenda had passed one chamber by the General Assembly's crossover deadline.

A bill designed to increase the state's housing supply by incentivizing construction and removing barriers to development has not yet passed either the House or the Senate. But the measure, part of the Democratic governor's efforts to make housing more affordable, was expected to get a vote in the legislature later this week.

Eric Luedtke, the governor's chief legislative officer, said the administration was “feeling great” at this point.

“We appreciate the partnership of legislators in both the House and the Senate as the Governor’s bills work their way through the legislative process," Luedtke said.

A separate measure to strengthen state financing tools for housing and community development has passed the House. The bill would create an independent quasi-government unit called the Maryland Community Investment Corporation to invest in low-income communities. A separate bill to increase protections for renters also has been passed in the House.

The governor's proposal to address child poverty also has been passed by the Senate. It includes $15 million in grants to help guide interventions in communities with disproportionately high numbers of children living in poverty.

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