Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot urged each other Monday to take steps to ease high gas prices this summer by suspending taxes on fuel, but the officials say they are limited in what they can do on their own.
Hogan, a Republican, called on the comptroller to immediately take steps to “halt or minimize” an annual automatic gas-tax increase that was approved by the legislature in 2013 to index the tax to inflation. The comptroller's office announces the increase on or before June 1 of each year to take effect July 1.
“I know that you agree we should do more to give Marylanders a break from these punishing prices," Hogan wrote to Franchot, a Democrat. "That is why it is my hope that you will use every legal and regulatory power at your disposal to halt or minimize the impact of the accelerating gas taxes, and that you consider granting an extension for paying the taxes and removing penalties for unpaid tax, including the revocation of business licenses.”
Susan O'Brien, a spokesperson for Franchot, said the comptroller cannot unilaterally halt or suspend the automatic increase to the tax.
“Delaying motor fuel tax returns, as the governor seems to be suggesting, would have no impact on consumers who are suffering at the pump,” O'Brien said. "It would only help Big Oil delay their tax payments.”
In a letter to the governor, Franchot said he agreed that increasing the gas tax at a time when rising costs of goods and services are imposing more financial burden on families and small businesses “is both morally and economically irresponsible.”
The comptroller, who is the state's tax collector, said the failure to pass a bill to end that automatic increase has put officials in a situation “where we are looking for legal and regulatory loopholes to prevent this devastating tax hike from taking place.”
Hogan has supported legislation to permanently end the automatic tax increase, but the bill has not gained traction.
Franchot urged the governor to “immediately proclaim a State of Energy Emergency” to suspend the state's motor fuel tax until September.
“Doing so would not only provide relief for Marylanders from the current motor fuel tax rate, but it will also temporarily prevent an increase to the gas tax from taking effect,” Franchot wrote.
The comptroller also noted the state is in a strong fiscal position to absorb the financial impact of a gas tax suspension.
But the governor's office says the law cited by the comptroller applies to supply shortages, not taxes and fees.
In March, the General Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, reached an agreement with Hogan for a one-month suspension of the state's 36-cents-a-gallon gas tax. The suspension expired last month.
“While I was disappointed that our gas tax holiday came to an unnecessary halt, I hope you will respond with executive action during this economic emergency and temporarily suspend the gas tax – which will increase to 43 cents – for four months," Franchot wrote. “My office stands ready to implement a gas tax holiday once again as we seamlessly and effectively did last month.”
The average price for a gallon of gas in Maryland was about $4.61 on Monday, according to AAA. The national average is about $4.60 a gallon.