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Penny (tax) for your transportation? Poll finds opposition

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Penny (tax) for your transportation? Poll finds opposition

Feb 13, 2024 | 12:01 am ET
By Bryan P. Sears
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Penny (tax) for your transportation? Poll finds opposition
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Motorists pass through a road-widening project on Route 32 in Howard County. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

A majority of Maryland voters will not support a 1-cent increase in the sales tax dedicated to transportation projects around the state, according to a poll released Tuesday.

The results are part of the latest survey released by Annapolis-based Gonzales Research & Media. That survey also includes new data on the performance of Gov. Wes Moore (D) in office, and gauges support for strengthening penalties for firearm theft and fentanyl distribution as well as medical aid-in-dying legislation and abortion rights.

The state’s Transportation Trust Fund faces a $3.1 billion deficit over six years due to declining gas tax collections and other factors. Closing the gap would require either draconian cuts to projects or an infusion of money at a time when the state is also staring down billions in future operating budget deficits.

One option that is, at least for now, a tough sell with voters is an increase in the state’s sales tax. Nearly six in 10 voters said they oppose such an increase dedicated to transportation.

The results are part of a Gonzales survey of 815 registered Maryland voters. The poll, conducted Jan. 23-Feb. 2, had a 3.5-point margin of error.

Del. Robbyn Lewis (D-Baltimore City), citing national polling data transit ballot initiatives, floated the idea of a dedicated sales tax increase in December.

A 1-cent increase would add about $1 billion in additional revenue to state coffers.

“They pass. People were willing to tax themselves to pay for transit,” Lewis said at the time.

Maryland does not allow for such initiatives and Lewis has yet to put in a bill.

The Gonzales survey found opposition to the idea among Republicans and unaffiliated voters.

More than five in 10 Democratic voters approved of the idea, with more than 43% saying they were opposed. But intensity of support for an increase among those voters was soft, according to the poll. Three in five Democrats who said they support a sale tax increase for transportation said they only “somewhat support” the idea.

“Sixty percent of Marylanders oppose the sales tax to fund transportation, with 48% who strongly oppose,” said pollster Patrick Gonzales. “That gets my attention. That’s not soft opposition. That’s overall. Within the Democratic bloc, 52% oppose — about half — and a half that I would say is reasonably described as soft support.”

Additionally, the poll found that seven in 10 independent voters opposed the idea, with 58% strongly opposing an increase.

“On money issues, funding issues, tax issues, independents intensity-wise, are much closer to Republicans,” Gonzales said.

Opposition to the idea ran across nearly every demographic — men and women as well as age groups.

And while nearly 63% of white voters opposed such an increase, Black voters were even split, with 50% saying they opposed the idea compared to slightly more than 49% who said they would support an increase.

Gov. Wes Moore (D) and lawmakers find themselves searching for ways to modernize the fund to pay for road and transit projects. A 31-member Transportation Revenue and Infrastructure Needs Commission is expected to resume meetings later this year.

There is also division within the House and Senate over how quickly to act. Some House leaders including Appropriations Committee Chair Ben Barnes (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel) would like to consider some increases this year.

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and Budget and Taxation Chair Guy Guzzone (D-Howard) say they will wait a year to act.

In a related question, 64% of those surveyed said funding roads and bridges should take priority among transportation projects. About 26% said mass transit projects should be prioritized.

Penny (tax) for your transportation? Poll finds opposition
Gov. Wes Moore (D) speaks at a State House press conference. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Job approval for Moore remains steady

The newly released poll showed continued support for Moore over his first 13-months in office.

Overall, 58% of voters approved of Moore’s job performance. Less than three in 10 said they disapprove.

The results released Tuesday on the governor are statistically even with a Gonzales Poll released in October.

Support for increased penalties for gun theft, fentanyl distribution

Proposals to impose tough penalties for those convicted of using a stolen firearm in the commission of a felony and those convicted of selling fentanyl have broad support.

Nearly nine in 10 voters said they support increased penalties for convictions involving the use of a stolen firearm. The results are nearly identical to those released by Gonzales a year ago. Nearly three quarters of those who responded said they “strongly agree” with tougher penalties.

Republican lawmakers have made passage of tougher penalties for firearm theft a priority in the 2024 session. Similar bills have passed out of the Senate in recent years but stalled in the House.

Similarly, 83% of those surveyed said they would support a mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison for anyone convicted selling fentanyl-laced drugs that resulted in a death.