By Becca Heller
Dozens of people gathered outside the State House Friday to protest a proposed hike on the gas tax. Wielding paper stop signs that said “Stop the Gas Tax,” the group rallied around their spokesman, Nick Loffer, a grassroots director for Americans for Prosperity.
“We’re talking about a 60% gas tax hike which, if enacted, will give us the fifth highest gas tax in the country,” said Loffer. “That’s not okay in Maryland.”
The legislation, HB 1515, raises gas taxes in order to increase revenue for the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), a joint-fund for statewide transportation needs. The rally was held prior to the bill’s hearing before the House Ways & Means Committee. Opponents bill are strongly critical of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s distribution of transportation money in the past, and feel that this bill enables him to clean up his mistakes at the expense of his constituents.
“The governor has mismanaged the budget for years,” said Loffer. “He’s stolen billions of dollars out of the Transportation Trust Fund. If you put all the money that he took and put towards his pet projects, his priorities and put it towards roads, we wouldn’t be in this situation at all.”
Most of the money transferred from the trust fund has been repaid, except for $1.1 billion taken since 2004 from local Highway User Revenues, which fund municipal and county transportation projects.
Loffer explained that the money in the transportation fund has been unevenly distributed for years. Though almost half of the fund’s revenue comes from the taxes on fuel, the majority of the money has been invested in mass transit and other public services that do not benefit drivers. Only 30% of the capital in the fund was put into roads, Loffer said.
Gas stations, drivers will be hit with increase
The bill would also raise the cost of gas significantly, putting a squeeze on gas stations and drivers across the state. It proposes to gradually raise tax rates on gasoline from 23.5 cents per gallon to 42.7 cents by fiscal 2018.
“The regular person’s gonna hurt,” said Roseanne Biggs, manager of a BP gas station in Clinton, MD. “It’s going to hurt our businesses, too, but we’re going to have to pass it on to the customer and it’s really going to hurt them the most.”
Biggs and others attending the rally said they were concerned about the lack of media coverage the gas tax bill has received due to other controversial bills that are in the legislature right now. According to Biggs, very few of the people she’s spoken to have even heard about the initiative, and some suspect that the timing of the bill was strategic.
“They know when to put it in,” said Dave Barsotti, manager of a Sunoco in Parkville, MD. “They have the death penalty bill, they have other stuff right now — they know when to sneak stuff in.”