The leaders of Maryland’s General Assembly say eliminating the legislatively mandated gas tax increase will not reduce prices at the pump and will cost the state when it comes to road safety.
In a joint statement released Wednesday, Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones pushed back on the proposal to halt the gas tax hike amid calls from the governor, comptroller and the House Republican Caucus to act before the increase is set to take effect on July 1.
Gas prices in Maryland: Interactive map
Due to legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2013, the gas tax will increase from 36.1 cents per gallon to 42.7 cents per gallon. The law mandates the increase of gas taxes annually based on inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index.
On Tuesday, the comptroller and the House Republican Caucus each sent letters to the legislative leaders, seeking a special session to address the state’s gas tax.
Comptroller Peter Franchot is seeking emergency legislation that grants him the authority to suspend the automatic increase in the gas tax. The comptroller wrote that if granted legislative authority, he will do so for one fiscal year, from July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023.
The comptroller also called on the Legislature to pass another state gas-tax holiday through Sept. 30, similar to the 30-day gas tax holiday adopted in March.
The House Republicans also seek to enact a gas tax holiday and eliminate the automatic increase in the gas tax.
The legislative leaders said eliminating the tax hike would instead cost the state $200 million in funding for roads and bridges. They also said a gas-tax holiday will have long-term consequences.
The leaders’ statement reads, in its entirety: “We are all feeling the effects of surging gas prices, which have become a global problem and result from big oil taking advantage of global uncertainty to make record-shattering profits.
“The suggested elimination of the 6-cent-per-gallon inflation adjustment on wholesale gas purchases would not result in Marylanders seeing a price reduction at the pump but would be a loss of over $200 million in funding dedicated to ensuring the safety of our state’s roads and bridges.
“Furthermore, temporary tax holidays have long-term consequences. As fuel prices rise, so too do the costs of maintenance and construction in our transportation sector. Ensuring the safety and integrity of Maryland’s roadways, bridges and transit systems is critical. We cannot have a reliable transportation network that regularly experiences failing conditions due to insufficient funding and deferred maintenance.
“We have a duty to Marylanders to protect their health, safety and economic security, and will continue to work with others to ease the burden Marylanders are facing due to rising prices. The problem is not the marginal impact of (6-cent) inflation adjustment to the wholesale gas tax. The problem is big oil companies exploiting global uncertainty to drive the price of gas to more than $4 a gallon.”
Over the past few days, Gov. Larry Hogan and the comptroller called on each other to take steps to halt the tax increase, but there has been an ongoing debate that ensued over who has the authority to stop it.
The governor’s office on Wednesday again called on the comptroller to take action, citing previous actions the the comptroller has taken with regard to taxes.
Gubernatorial spokesman Michael Ricci sent a statement Wednesday afternoon to 11 News in response to the legislative leaders’ statement, saying: “In light of today’s statement by Speaker Jones and President Ferguson, the governor again calls on Comptroller Franchot to take action to minimize the impact of the gas tax increase — as he has done in similar situations in the past. We urge the comptroller to set campaign politics aside for the moment and do the right thing.”
The comptroller said he and the state attorney general reviewed state law and found he has no legal authority to unilaterally alter or stop the automatic increase to the state’s gas tax rate.
Susan O’Brien, a spokeswoman for the comptroller, released a statement later Wednesday afternoon, saying, “For the third consecutive day this week, the governor’s public relations team — and not his legal office — has deceptively indicated that our agency has legal authority to unilaterally halt the automatic increase to the gas tax, set by law to go into effect on July 1. These false claims continue to be pushed by his PR team without citing any provision of state law, and directly contradict the actual legal determination of our agency’s counsel and what has been publicly confirmed by the attorney general of Maryland.
“To suggest the comptroller is playing politics when he’s the only elected leader trying to find a solution to this crisis is as false as their claim that we have the legal authority to take unilateral action. If he wanted to — as the most powerful governor in the country — Gov. Hogan can, and should, take executive action to prevent this $200 million tax increase from taking effect.”
The comptroller said the previous actions cited by the governor’s office were each examples that were legally permissible under existing law and dealt with tax payment extensions, not dealing with suspending enforcement and collection of tax rates.
The comptroller called on the governor to call for an immediate state of energy emergency.
But what the two agreed on was they shared the confidence that the state can absorb any financial impact of foregoing the tax increase due in part to the state’s record $7.5 billion surplus.
The legislation was introduced during Session 2022 that would have paused or repealed the state’s automatic gas tax increases.
St. Mary’s County Delegate Matt Morgan, R-District 29A, had a bill in during Session 2022 to repeal the increase. His bill was not voted on in committee. Morgan brought the bill to the House floor in the form of an amendment, and it was also rejected.
Days before the gas tax holiday was set to expire, Washington County Delegate Brenda Thiam, R-District 2B, offered an amendment to extend the gas tax holiday for an additional 45 days. The amendment was rejected.
Franchot is running for the Democratic nomination for governor.