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House gives preliminary approval to tolling, gaming bills as deadline nears

House Ways and Means Chair Vanessa Atterbeary (D-Howard) and House Appropriations Chair Ben Barnes (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s) confer during a Saturday floor session in the House of Delegates. Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

The House of Delegates gave preliminary approval to a bill to transfer $750 million from Maryland’s toll facilities to the state Transportation Trust Fund.

The vote was one of two taken Saturday on bills meant to target projected operating and transportation deficits. House Bill 1070 is part of a $1.2 billion package of toll, fee and tax increases announced by House leaders Friday.

Del. Marc Korman (D-Montgomery). File photo by Bryan P. Sears.

House Environment and Transportation Chair Marc Korman (D-Montgomery) said the “end result” of the bill will be “to repay the taxpayers of Maryland and allow us to do what many other states do, which is leverage our toll facilities for our broader transportation needs.”

The state is facing a more than $3 billion gap in its Transportation Trust Fund over the next five years. The dedicated account pays for road and transit projects.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Weidefeld announced $3.3 billion in cuts in December to address the shortfall. Gov. Wes Moore (D) announced a month later that he had found enough money to delay the cuts for one year.

House and Senate leaders so far this session differ on whether and how to address the problem this year. So far, the Senate has focused on two recommendations from the state’s Transportation Revenue and Infrastructure Needs Commission, which is doing a deeper dive into transportation funding challenges.

Those recommendations include toll increases on vehicles titled out of state and allowing some money collected by the Maryland Transportation Authority to go to the trust fund. Another recommendation called for higher vehicle registration fees for owners of electric and hybrid vehicles to bring them in line with gas taxes paid by gas-powered vehicles.

The House bill requires the tolling authority to transfer $75 million annually into the trust fund for 10 years. Korman said the transfer repays $750 million that was pulled from the trust fund to pay for construction of the Intercounty Connector highway.

House Minority Leader Del. Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany). Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

House Minority Leader Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany) said the change would increase the likelihood of toll increases.

“For those communities that have to do this every day, day in and day out, the raising of tolls is in effect, a tax increase upon them because they’re the people who use the roads,” he said.

Korman said toll increases are coming no matter what.

“We could vote this bill down right now and have it be dead forever, and the tolls will still be going up within the next few years,” said Korman.

Korman said the transportation authority will have to increase tolls by 2028 even if the House did not pass the bill.

“No matter what we do, tolls are going up now,” Korman said to Buckel. “Will this alter how they have to raise the tolls? Maybe a little bit on the margins, but they got to raise the tolls regardless. I know that can be tough for folks in your party. I know some decisions were made in the prior administration. But the reality is these toll facilities and their debt costs money.”

The voice vote on Saturday sets up a final vote on Monday.

The House moved scores of bills during two floor sessions Saturday. The weekend meetings were part of an effort to pass House bills in time to meet Monday’s “Crossover Day” deadline that guarantees bills passed in one chamber will be considered by the other before the legislative session ends on April 8.

Other bills given preliminary or final approval by the House include:

The House gave preliminary approval of House Bill 1319. The bill, if passed into law and approved by voters in November, would allow iGaming — casino-style games played on phones, computers, and other electronic devices — in Maryland.

House Democrats rejected four Republican amendments during a brief floor debate.

The gaming expansion is also part of the House revenue package. Democrats estimate it could generate $300 million annually to pay for K-12 education by fiscal 2028.

The House also gave preliminary approval to House Bill 689. The bill changes an existing $3,000 tax credit on the purchase of electric vehicles costing no more than $50,000 into a rebate that would be given at the point of sale at the car dealership. The $8 million is enough for about 2,700 electric vehicle purchases annually.

The House preliminarily approved House Bill 1252 — a bill that would authorize a study about locating slot machines at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The Senate did not meet on Saturday and will not return for voting until Monday afternoon. The House is scheduled to come in at 10 a.m. Monday.


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House gives preliminary approval to tolling, gaming bills as deadline nears