Opponents start petitions, fundraising drives

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed gasoline tax would cost two-car families roughly $400 a year once fully implemented, if drivers are filling an 18-gallon tank five times a month and the cost of gas never rises.

That prospect has taxpayers, drivers and the gasoline industry flocking to Annapolis to attack the proposal, which would add a 6 percent sales tax, or roughly 18-cents-per gallon, to the cost of gas over three years, on top of the current 23-cents-per-gallon tax. About 75 percent of Marylanders surveyed in January said they oppose even a 10-cent increase in the state's gas tax. The survey was done by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies.

Pain at the pump
What a 6 percent sales tax on gas would cost at the pump:*
Average cost of gasCost of tax per tankCost of tax per monthCost of tax per year
*Assumes that driver fills an 18-gallon tank five times a month

"This is such a serious assault on us," said Pete Horrigan, president of the the Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Distributors' Association, which represents gas retailers in Annapolis and commissioned the Gonzales survey. "Customers today are extremely price sensitive and they will travel out of their way to make a gasoline purchase. The governor's proposal will cost us jobs and tax revenues."

The gas retailers group started a petition against the tax that gathered 20,000 signatures over five days last week, Horrigan said. The group is posting anti-gas-tax material on thousands of fuel pumps around the state and preparing to launch a new website that will prompt taxpayers to contact their lawmakers.

The nonpartisan Maryland Public Policy Institute, meanwhile, is soliciting donations from taxpayers to help fight the proposal.

"It would be crushing, a shot in the gut and a huge blow to families," Christopher Summers, president of the nonpartisan group, wrote in a recent fundraising pitch. "Lend your financial support. It could be the best investment in your future -- and Maryland's -- you make all year."

O'Malley says the tax would create thousands of construction jobs by freeing up capital for a $12 billion backlog of transportation projects. The tax is expected to generate $613 million annually once fully implemented.

While construction workers and county officials, who want the road dollars that the tax would generate, rally around O'Malley's promise of new jobs, some trucking companies are bracing for potential layoffs.

The tax would cost trucking companies roughly $4,000 per driver annually, according to Louis Campion, president of the Maryland Motor Truck Association.

That's on top of sharp toll increases which, implemented in January, are expected to cost trucking companies an annual average of $6,000 to $9,000 per driver, Campion said.

"Regrettably, if Gov. O'Malley's proposal passes, we will be No. 1 for tractor-trailer vehicle registration fees and diesel fuel taxes amongst all bordering states," Campion said. "That's going to make it pretty challenging for Maryland trucking companies to compete ..."

O'Malley argues that the state has not raised its 23.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax since 1992 and that Maryland needs new revenue to plug an estimated $800 million shortfall in transportation funding.

But even some of Maryland's top Democrats, who once supported an increase, are opposing O'Malley's plan.

Comptroller Peter Franchot says the economy is too weak to absorb the tax and has proposed a two-year moratorium on all tax increases.

Sen. Majority Leader Rob Garagiola, a Democrat from Germantown who is running for Congress in Western Maryland's Sixth District, also has said he will vote against the tax.

"As we continue to pull ourselves out the worst recession since the Great Depression, we have to continue to be sensitive to the pocketbooks of our middle class and working families," said campaign manager Sean Rankin. hpeterson@washingtonexaminer.com

Report - MAPDA January 2012[1]