ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- Maryland's first gas tax increase in two decades cleared a Senate committee on Thursday, paving the way for people to pay nearly 4 cents more per gallon in July and for additional increases in coming years.
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee passed the bill on a 9-4 vote, sending it to the Senate floor. The panel did not make any changes to the bill first proposed earlier this month by Gov. Martin O'Malley. The measure already has passed the House of Delegates.
All nine supporters were Democrats. Three Republicans and one Democrat voted against it.
The committee also approved a separate measure for a constitutional amendment that would provide greater safeguards against using transportation money for other purposes.
The gas tax measure would raise the cost of a gallon of gas by about 4 cents in July by adding a 1 percent sales tax. It would rise to 2 percent January 2015 and 3 percent in July 2015.
It could rise to 5 percent in 2016, if Congress does not approve a measure allowing states to charge an Internet sales tax to provide another source of revenue for transportation projects. The top rate would add about 20 cents to the price of a gallon of gas to today's price, when increases for inflation are added.
Maryland has not raised its 23.5-cents-per-gallon excise tax since 1992. The state is on track to run out of money for any new transportation projects after 2017.
The separate constitutional amendment, which passed on a 13-0 vote, is being proposed to try to answer criticism that O'Malley and lawmakers have raided transportation money in recent years to fill other budget holes.
The amendment would require that all revenue sources that go into the Transportation Trust Fund as they existed on July 1, 2012 would have to be used for transportation purposes, unless the governor declares a fiscal emergency and the two houses of the Legislature approve tapping into the money by a three-fifths vote.
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