Maryland commuters could get a break under a bill proposed in the General Assembly in Annapolis that would offer a tax credit to people who drive at least 40 miles round trip to work each day.
The bill by Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-Charles) would provide a credit against drivers’ state income tax to help reimburse them for the costs of commuting.
Ellis said the bill came out of his push for transit options in Charles County, where there are only two main roads to handle the 77 percent of working adults in the county going into southern Prince George’s County toward Washington, D.C.
No matter how fuel-efficient your vehicle is, the commute is expensive.
“You are burning a lot of fuel,” Ellis said.
But traffic problems along Interstate 270 in Frederick and Montgomery counties and other parts of the state show that congestion is a statewide concern, he said.
A policy analysis for the bill said that about 3 million Marylanders commuted to work in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
About three-quarters of those drove alone, with the rest using carpools and public transportation.
Maryland residents have an average one-way commute of about 33 minutes, the second-highest average in the country.
The bill would apply to commuters who drive between 40 and 120 miles round trip each day, between three and five days a week, or drivers who travel between 6,240 and 31,200 miles each year.
People who live within a 5-mile radius of a commuter rail station would not qualify for the tax credit.
Anyone who wanted to qualify for the tax credit would have to provide proof of their permanent address and their vehicle registration address match, and certification by their employer of their work address and the average number of days worked each week.
The policy analysis estimates that the tax credit would cost the state about $357.4 million in fiscal 2021, with costs rising yearly from administrative costs for the comptroller’s office and the Maryland Department of Transportation.
Dylan Diggs, who drives from Frederick to Washington for his job with the federal government, said the extra money from the tax credit would obviously help people with the cost of commuting but questioned whether the state should provide public money for that purpose.
He wondered whether the tax credit would be an incentive to drive to work rather than use other types of transportation.
Diggs said he would support the idea of a tax credit more if a bill could be oriented more toward lower-income commuters.
There is a need among commuters who lack telecommuting options and access to public transit, he said.
Charles County has a popular commuter bus service, but the people who ride the buses are stuck in the same traffic as everyone else, Ellis said.
A lot of people are also forced to drive because the buses are full, he said.
“The demand is there, but the supply, even with commuter buses, is not,” he said.
Ellis said the cost of the tax credit would go back into Maryland’s economy.
“These are working men and women who will get this money back in their pocket,” he said.