It’s going to cost more to fill up a gas tank starting Saturday, because the state’s gas tax goes up again.
The state’s portion of the gas tax will be 47 cents per gallon, up from 42.7 cents, as part of an annual adjustment that links the tax to inflation.
Maryland’s gas tax has inched up year after year since 2013, when state lawmakers and then-Gov. Martin O’Malley approved legislation that made initial increases to the tax and then indexed future increases to inflation. The 2013 plan was designed to raise more money for transportation projects.
Even O’Malley acknowledged the gas tax increase wouldn’t be popular, telling The Washington Post at the time: “It’s not the kind of stuff people throw you bouquets for.”
Comptroller Brooke Lierman, a Democrat whose office is responsible for collecting the gas tax, declined to comment on the increase. A spokesperson noted the comptroller’s office follows the 2013 law, and did the calculation of the new gas tax rate and posted it online one week ahead of a June 1 required deadline.
“The Comptroller understands the ongoing challenges presented by inflation and has made every effort to provide this notice as early as possible,” spokesperson Tim Zink said in a statement. “We will continue to perform the duties assigned to our office in a way that supports Marylanders and allows the maximum possible time to account for any changes in the tax code.”
Although the gas tax may not be popular, it raised $1.1 billion in 2022 for transportation projects across the state.
“No one ever likes to pay more at the pump, whether it’s due to inflation, whether it’s due to economic issues or whether it’s because of a gas tax,” said Ragina Ali, spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “But the reality is the gas tax is necessary to fund improvements on Maryland roads.”
Republican lawmakers have been trying since 2015 to undo the automatic gas tax increases. And this week they issued a call for a special session of the General Assembly to address the issue.
“The legislation essentially means that taxes can be raised without a vote automatically, and we think that’s an unacceptable policy in general,” said Del. Jesse Pippy, the House of Delegates minority whip from Frederick County.
Sen. Jason Gallion, a Republican representing Harford and Cecil counties, took up the cause this year, sponsoring legislation that would have repealed the automatic increases but otherwise would have left the gas tax intact.
“If they want to raise a tax, they should have to go through the committee process every year and have an up or down vote,” Gallion said.
Republicans also argue the gas tax is regressive. A driver with a 15-gallon fill-up pays the same amount, whether they make a modest salary or a large one, whether they have an economy car or a luxury car.
“Middle- and lower-income people are hit the hardest,” Gallion said.
And they say they don’t even necessarily want to get rid of the gas tax. But halting the automatic increases would cause a financial hit to the state.
Gallion’s bill this year, if it had passed, would have meant an estimated $62 million less in gas tax for the state, according to a nonpartisan analysis.
The closest anyone got to changing the gas tax was in 2022, when Democrats and Republicans agreed to approve a 30-day suspension of the tax at a time when the cost of gas surged due to inflation and factors related to Russia’s war on Ukraine. The state’s gas tax at the time was 36 cents per gallon, and the suspension saved drivers $94 million.
Lawmakers eventually could reassess the gas tax and its role in paying for transportation projects as consumer habits shift. A newly-established commission will offer recommendations to lawmakers over the next two years.
As more people drive hybrid and electric cars, sales of gasoline could decrease — resulting in less revenue from the gas tax. Those vehicles put the same wear and tear on roads as gas-powered cars but without paying the tax that funds roadwork.
Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat, has pledged to adopt rules to phase out the sale of new, gas-powered cars by 2035 in an effort to combat climate change. He’s also acknowledged the need to review the gas tax, telling The Baltimore Sun earlier this week that it’s a regressive tax and that “we’ve got to do better for working families.”
“With vehicles being more fuel efficient and with more people using electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles, we’re probably going to look at other ways to continue to fund important transportation projects,” said Ali from AAA.