Basu said the state's weak showing relative to the national projection also reflects some of the region's exposure to federal budget problems.

"This is probably in response to sequestration, though there are other factors at work," he said. Basu said federal workers and civilian defense employees are likely feeling less secure in their jobs, while those in the financial, distributing and manufacturing sectors are likely to feel more confident.

As of Monday, gas in Maryland was $3.55 per gallon, which is a cent less than it was last week, 13 cents less than last month and 16 cents less than this time last year, according to AAA. That decrease comes in spite of the 3.5-cent increase in the state gas tax that took effect July 1.

The 900,000-member leisure travel organization predicted that gas prices would remain steady through the holiday weekend.

Basu disagreed, saying travelers could see an uptick over the weekend because of rising tensions in Syria. But he said the price in the days leading up to travel, when people are making plans, can be more important than the weekend price.

Gas prices have remained relatively stable even as crude oil prices have soared past $100 a barrel. Averella said consumers have benefited from the lack of recent hurricane-related shutdowns of refineries or serious disruptions in the distribution system.

Lower gas prices will serve Marylanders well this weekend, as those who are getting out of town are also traveling farther.

About 56 percent of Maryland travelers intend to travel between 50 and 400 miles round trip, compared to 43 percent last year. The average round-trip mileage is 592 miles, a 23 percent increase over last year.

Many of those traveling will be single adults or couples. With kids back in school, AAA predicts that families will account for just 27 percent of travelers.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

krector@baltsun.com

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