Top Maryland lawmakers said Wednesday that eliminating a scheduled gas-tax increase of more than 6 cents this summer won't solve the problem of high gas prices and would set back efforts to maintain infrastructure.
With gas now priced at about $4.60 a gallon on average in Maryland, Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones said in a joint statement that “the problem is big oil companies exploiting global uncertainty to drive the price of gas to more than $4 a gallon.”
Eliminating the inflation adjustment “would be a loss of over $200 million in funding dedicated to ensuring the safety of our State’s roads and bridges,” said Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, and Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat.
“As fuel prices rise, so too do the costs of maintenance and construction in our transportation sector,” they said. “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.”
When Maryland lawmakers approved the adjustment for inflation to the gas tax in 2013, they described it as a way of regularly keeping up with rising costs of transportation infrastructure. Because of high inflation now, the automatic tax increase is set to be the highest hike yet, when it increases from 36.1 cents per gallon to 42.7 cents, or by about 18%, on July 1.
The looming increase prompted Republican Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday to call on Comptroller Peter Franchot to take steps to “halt or minimize" the increase. For his part, Franchot, a Democrat, called on Hogan to declare a state of energy emergency to suspend the state’s gas tax until September.
The issue continued to pit the term-limited governor against the comptroller, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in a crowded primary. Both Hogan's and Franchot's offices disputed the other's characterizations of their powers, saying they do not have the authority to unilaterally stop the tax increase.
On Tuesday, Franchot called on Jones and Ferguson to hold a special session to grant him the authority to waive the gas tax increase. He also urged them to pass a second gas tax holiday through Sept. 30, similar to the 30-day gas tax holiday that went into effect in March and ended last month.
"The executive and legislative branches have unquestionable authority to prevent an 18% increase to the gas tax – from 36 cents to 43 cents – from taking effect,” Franchot wrote in a letter.
Michael Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said: “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 in similar situations in the past."
Susan O'Brien, a spokeswoman for Franchot, said Wednesday that 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.
“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,” O'Brien said.