By Senate Minority Leader Steve Hershey & Senate Minority Whip Justin Ready
Just as summer kicks into gear and families hit the road for vacation, Marylanders will again be paying more at the pump on July 1st when the gas tax automatically increases by more than 10% making Maryland’s total gas tax 47 cents per gallon.
This annual, automatic increase is the handiwork of Maryland Democrats who in 2013 rammed through a law that tied the gas tax to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or inflation, so that it would increase every year at the rate of inflation without a new vote of the Maryland General Assembly.
For Maryland Democrats, it was a brilliant plan – they could take one tough vote, and then be absolved of all responsibility for future gas tax increases. As Republican members of the House of Delegates at the time, we fought against this never-ending gas tax increase, but the gerrymandered, Democratic supermajority passed the law over our staunch objections.
For Marylanders, it’s been a “sneak-a-tax” that has quietly gone up year after year, until 2022 when the public took notice as we experienced the biggest jump to date – 6.7 cents per gallon thanks to record inflation. When combined with this year’s increase, Maryland’s gas tax has gone up 30% in the past two years. This is not sustainable, especially as this automatic gas tax increase continues to raise the cost of living and doing business.
In the ten years since its passage, our concerns have become a reality. The automatic gas tax increase is a flawed policy that flies in the face of transparency and good government.
If the General Assembly wants to raise taxes, it should follow the legislative process and allow for public comment and a transparent vote. The gas tax should not be an exception.
“We’ll come back and fix it,” has become a familiar refrain in Annapolis when the Democratic supermajority rushes to pass a flawed legislation before the end of Session. Apparently, we can come back year after year to make changes to the Education Blueprint and Climate Solutions, but can’t apply that same logic to the gas tax. This is a cowardly double standard.
Part of our job as legislators is to take votes on tough issues, and we are responsible to the public for those votes. If a member wants to increase the gas tax, then they should propose a bill, take a vote and explain their position rather than hide behind a vote taken ten years ago.
Maryland’s automatic gas tax increase is a flawed policy that should be repealed.
While the gas tax is indexed to inflation, it only goes up and does not go down during periods of deflation.
Adjustments to the gas tax, including pauses, can only be made by the General Assembly when they are in Session. During the interim, action cannot be taken by the Governor or the Board of Public Works, and the only option is to call a Special Session. This inflexibility does not allow State government to respond to market conditions and provide relief to citizens during periods of high inflation combined with skyrocketing gas prices like we experienced last year.
Maryland Senate Republicans have utilized every method available to repeal the automatic gas tax increase. During the 2022 and 2021 Sessions, we proposed legislation for a complete repeal, but those bills never received a committee vote. We also attempted to pass a repeal through amendments on the Senate floor, but those amendments failed. Finally, we attempted to petition a bill to pause the gas tax for two years out of committee to the Senate floor for a vote, but not one Democrat would be the last signature needed to force a debate and vote.
Elections have consequences. Marylanders suffer when there are gerrymandered supermajorities and one-party control of State Government.
The General Assembly must take a long, hard look at the future of Maryland’s gas tax, and how the accelerated transition to electric vehicles will impact funding for our roads, bridges, and highways. Continued increases to the gas tax are not the answer.
In the upcoming General Assembly Session, Senate Republicans will again propose a complete repeal of the automatic gas tax increase. In addition, we will propose a new measure that would allow the Board of Public Works to suspend the automatic increase when the General Assembly is not in Session.
We know the numbers are stacked against us, and the only way to get this repeal though is for our fellow citizens to get involved in the debate to repeal the automatic gas tax increase. We look forward to keeping Marylanders updated on our efforts.