With oil prices soaring over political unrest in the Middle East, dozens of truck drivers descended on the Maryland State House to deliver a message that now is not the time for a gas tax increase.
About 40 trucks from the Maryland Motor Truck Association and Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Distributors Association drove up to the state house Tuesday morning to protest the bill.
The truck drivers argue raising the gas tax would actually hurt the state because truckers would avoid filling up in Maryland. They also said increasing the titling tax could drive trucking companies out of the state.
"Diesel fuel right now is knocking on $4 a gallon," said Mel Fair, fleet vice president for Beltway Trucking Company. "These trucks hold 300 gallons. A fillup for that truck is $1,200."
Maryland’s gas tax hasn’t been raised in almost 20 years, but it's currently higher than taxes on gas in Virginia, D.C. and Delaware, NBC Washington's Chris Gordon reported.
Lawmakers, however, are trying to raise between $400 million and $600 million more each year for transportation projects.
Some local leaders agree with the tax and testified at the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on transportation funding.
"Nobody wants to pay higher gas taxes, neither do I," Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker told NBC Washington's Tracee Wilkins. "But in order for us to do the transportation projects we need in the county, in order for us to continue economic development, we need a source of revenue."
"When you look at roads in Montgomery County, roads in the Washington suburbs have some of the worst congestion in the entire country," Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett said.
Baker said he also is concerned about the extra expense on drivers and truckers.
"We certainly understand that, but in order to keep up our road construction and economic development up in Prince George's County, we are going to need this," he said.
"I believe in the end it will cause more unemployment," said Dee Hodges, president of Maryland's Taxpayers Association, which is against the increase. "It’s taking money out of the pockets of people already unemployed.”
Lawmakers are also trying to balance a $1.4 billion budget gap. In the past, they've borrowed money from transportation, but if this measure passes, it would include an amendment preventing them from doing that in the future.
AAA Maryland took out a full page newspaper ad saying it would support the tax increase, if the Legislature passes protections for the transportation trust fund.