- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The state tax on a gallon of gas is currently 23.5 cents. On July 1, it will go up another 4 cents. But that’s not the end of it, not by a long shot. It is scheduled to go up again in January 2015, and by 2018, the total tax increase could be as high as 21 cents a gallon.
The exact amount is unclear because of the convoluted way the tax is structured. The plan is to phase in a new 5 percent sales tax on the wholesale price of gas (unless the U.S. Congress acts to permit a sales tax on out-of-state Internet sales, in which case the wholesale gas tax would be limited to 3 percent). Meanwhile, the existing excise tax on gas is going to be indexed to inflation. That means it will continue to rise without the legislature having to vote for it again.
Charles County residents are probably wondering what the county will gain from the extra money its residents are going to be paying. We were told by our local Annapolis delegation late last month that some local road projects are being included in the state’s six-year Consolidated Transportation Program. Our senator and three delegates voted for the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act in return for those projects being included in the transportation program. Those projects include funding for studies on a light-rail line to White Plains from the Metro station in Marlow Heights; a replacement or expansion of the U.S. 301 bridge in Newburg connecting Charles County to King George County, Va.; and interchanges at the intersections of U.S. 301 with Mattawoman-Beantown Road and Leonardtown Road. In Prince George’s County, projects on Route 210 and Route 5 are included in the transportation program and should benefit local commuters making their way north out of the county. Our local projects will still be competing for money with, among other things, mass transit projects closer to Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
We do know that many residents in the area shoulder more than their fair share of the gas tax burden. That’s because people here drive longer distances than their counterparts in cities and close-in suburbs, who also will benefit from the mass transit projects the gas tax will fund.
Look, there is no doubt that the state government had to come up with a sustainable way to pay for transportation projects. Maryland has some of the roughest commutes in the nation, and Charles County residents share in that pain. The state can’t let its existing roads and bridges crumble, and some of the money from the gas tax will be shipped to local governments to maintain county roads.
But this new gas tax, like all sales taxes, is regressive — falling heavily on those who have to use a high percentage of their income just to pay for the necessities of life. Let’s face it, it’s tough to hold down a decent job unless you drive to it, or at the very least drive to the nearest commuter bus.
This gas tax scheme, similar to one recently passed in Virginia, might seem like an elegant solution to the people who run state government because taxes will continue to go up automatically along with the cost of gasoline. But it’s not so elegant for people who will see every future spike in gas prices exaggerated by this tax and don’t have the option of taking Metro and leaving their car at home when the price gets too high.
The tax hike is expected to raise $4.4 billion in the next six years. Paying more at the pump might be easier to stomach when folks here begin to see real progress on local road projects. But that could be years away.
In the meantime, residents using commuter buses should be encouraged by last week’s news that more buses are being added on three routes from the county to Washington, D.C., and changes are being made to the bus schedules. Sixteen more buses on the road and tweaks to times and locations for stops should go a long way to making some daily commutes more convenient.