Gas tax increases recently passed by lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia are both aimed at a common target: relieving the traffic congestion strangling key regions in both states. And while they were shaped by very different sets of political forces, both levies are likely to have similarly modest economic impacts.
In Maryland, political power is concentrated in the hands of Democrats in the urban corridor connecting the D.C. suburbs with the Baltimore region. There the new gas tax — which raises the levy by 4 cents in July and by as much as 20 cents by 2016 — will be shouldered by drivers statewide.
That angered rural legislators, many of them Republicans, who argued that their constituents will be forced to pay more despite seeing little benefit from the increase, because the biggest planned transportation projects are new rail lines in the Washington and Baltimore regions.
In Virginia, where the bulk of growth is in the prosperous suburbs near Washington, political power is more diffuse. Republicans control the House and the Governor’s Mansion — the Senate is evenly split — and downstate and rural lawmakers hold sway. The result was a gas tax increase that will place the biggest burdens on areas that will see the most improvements — congested Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.