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.”
Considering the external costs of the use of the automobile (air and noise pollution, collisions, congestion, stress, sedentary lifestyle, opportunity cost of doing something more productive than driving and vehicle storage), and considering that the automobile is the most costly mode of transportation in the perspectives of government and individual, the gasoline taxes should be as high as possible.
In the long-term, people would be less dependent on gasoline if the median journey distance were to decrease to within walking distance by making it more profitable for builders to build upward rather than outward through elimination of height and minimum setback restrictions, maximum automobile parking of 0, integration of residential and commercial use of the land, decreasing impact fees to 0 for infill and increased for low density, basing property taxes on the value of land alone rather than land and building, and eliminating land transfer taxes.
I’m always fascinated by people who think we should all live in high rises and sell our cars. On what planet do they live? Some of us have homes in places where the buses never pass and the nearest sidewalk is 15 miles up the road.
Why is it that people who have never met me are so sure they know how I should live my life?
No one is forcing anyone to live in places with no bus service or sidewalks. My second paragraph explains how a greater proportion of the population would not be dependent on the automobile.
RIGHT – if we all lived stacked on top of each other on concrete slabs… A lot of us love our farms & grass & trees, but aren’t particularly thrilled with other people
Larger-than-average buildings are not necessarily composed of concrete slabs. It is possible for food to be grown in urban settings (as evidenced by a 17-storey farm being constructed in Sweden), but due to agricultural subsidies and government intervention in transportation (spending more on roads, highways, bridges, airports and seaports than gasoline taxes and user fees), it is more profitable for food to be grown in rural settings. It is possible for trees to grown on roofs, reducing stormwater pollution, increasing the life expectancy of roofs and moderating heating and cooling costs, and at ground level in urban settings. The suburbs and exurbs would not exist in the absence of government intervention in land use, and the proportion of the population who are rural in the US is low and decreasing.