Toll increases not in Shore’s best interest

Last month, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration made its final proposal for a massive toll hike that will more than triple the price to cross the Bay Bridge, from $2.50 to a whopping $8. Even larger toll increases are planned for trucks.

The bridge has already fully paid for itself and its maintenance, and even generated a $10 million surplus last year. That means that these proposed new toll increases are not user fees — they are tax hikes. I oppose these hikes because, in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression, they will hurt Lower Shore job creators, businesses and families.

The reason for this massive tax hike is simple: The state spends way too much on mass transit projects that lose money — and is planning to build even more. During his re-election campaign last year, O’Malley promised to build yet another urban mass transit project around Washington, even though there never was a funding source to pay for it.

Now, with the election over, the governor wants to divide Maryland by forcing the Eastern Shore — a place where he did not receive many votes — to pay for urban transit projects in places where he received most of his votes.

Whether it’s a toll hike or the proposed gas tax increase, those of us who drive on the Shore will be paying for riders on light rail in Washington and Baltimore who aren’t paying the cost of their transportation.

The result of these toll hikes will be devastating to our economy and will destroy jobs on the Lower Shore. I’ve spoken to folks in the poultry industry who rely heavily on trucks that cross the Bay Bridge every day to transport grain and finished products. Ocean City businesses depend on tourists from the western shore to meet their bottom lines. Families that fill up gas tank every day need gasoline from refineries across the bay.

If we triple the amount it costs to cross the bridge, it will mean higher unemployment, higher prices on the Shore and less money in your pocket.

Although this tax hike is being proposed at the state level, Maryland does depend on the federal government for millions of dollars in transportation money. As a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I have spoken to the chairman to investigate whether options exist to prevent Maryland from raising these tolls on rural areas. Why should we send hundreds of millions of federal highway dollars to Maryland when it turns around and taxes drivers to build mass transit instead of roads?

I will continue to stand up for you even when the big spenders in Annapolis won’t. On Thursday, the O’Malley administration will hold a public hearing on the toll increases at Stephen Decatur Middle School in Berlin. I urge you to participate in these hearings and have your voice heard. Thanks for the opportunity to serve you.

» Andy Harris represents Maryland’s 1st District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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