Harford opposes gas tax increase

Harford legislators vow to defeat a plan by Gov. Martin O'Malley to add the 6 percent sales tax to gasoline purchases. Above, a pump in Bel Air. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF, Patuxent Homestead / January 31, 2012)

Harford County legislators and residents are seeing red over Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal to add Maryland's 6 percent sales tax to gasoline purchases.

The addition of the sales tax, on top of the 23.5 cents per gallon tax the state has charged since 1992, would add at least another 18 cents per gallon at the pump, and probably more, according to some analyses

In Bel Air, where O'Malley has been booed loudly during past appearances in the town's Independence Day Parade, the reaction was predictable.

"It's the ideal time for them [the governor's office] to pass through things because they're not getting TV time," Bel Air resident Millie McNutt said Tuesday, referring to the amount of press national politics, such as the Republican presidential nomination race, is receiving.


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McNutt, who said she wasn't surprised by the O'Malley proposal, said she also believes Harford's legislators will represent her views and those of her fellow residents.

"The state keeps spending and it's just another way to tax rather than cut," McNutt added, pointing out that those who are struggling to make ends meet will be hit the worst if the additional tax passes the general assembly.

Senators and delegates from Harford County say the gas tax plan will affect not only daily commutes, but also the price of goods and services.

"It doesn't just affect you on your way to work, but it affects you when you walk into the grocery store," Western Harford Del. Rick Impallaria said.

Impallaria, a Republican who has served in the General Assembly since 2003, said he won't support what the governor wants, nor will other Harford legislators.

"I can't believe anyone could pull up and see the prices at the gas pump and believe that there is the ability to continue expanding the price of gasoline and that the debt wouldn't have a negative impact on the economy," he said.

Impallaria explained that the rise in gasoline costs would also increase the costs for deliveries of goods to various stores, subsequently driving up the prices for those goods and possibly creating a negative effect on overall sales tax revenues.

"I don't believe he [O'Malley] is doing any of this for the purpose of balancing the budget," Impallaria continued. "He's no longer playing to the audience of the citizens of the state of Maryland."

If O'Malley's proposal passes the legislature, Maryland would become the eighth state in the country to impose a sales tax on gasoline on top of the excise tax, according to the Tax Foundation. In Maryland, the latter is typically called the "highway user tax," but the revenue it generates funds a lot more than highway and bridge construction, including mass transit construction in Baltimore and the D.C. suburbs, a use highly unpopular with a large majority of Harford County residents.

In an interview Monday with Washington, D.C. radio station WTOP, O'Malley said the percentage tax would help protect revenue destined for transportation projects from the effects of inflation.

"Every week this governor comes up with a new way to confiscate money from the citizens of Maryland," said Western Harford Del. Pat McDonough, a Republican. "The tax is a negative tax on working people."

McDonough also pointed out the impact the tax would have on consumer goods and Harford's commuters.

Bel Air Del. Susan McComas also opposes the tax and believes Harford would take a large hit from the increase.

"Harford County is approximately 500 square miles. We do not have public transportation. We have a significant agricultural community in the northern part of the county. This 6 percent sales tax is going to cripple an industry that is already facing challenges in keeping the family farm," McComas, a Republican, wrote in an e-mail Tuesday

While O'Malley says the revenues from the added sales tax would go toward transportation, Northern Harford Sen. Barry Glassman thinks the transportation fund would have "enough revenue from the current gas tax if the governor did not raid the fund each year."

Glassman, another Republican who will not be supporting the proposal, called O'Malley "clearly out of touch with struggling [Marylanders]."

"At this point, they [the governor's office] are not going to be able to get the votes for most of the governor's agenda," Impallaria predicted.

He added that not only are Republicans united in not supporting the bill, but also Democrats are "becoming more and more frightened" in showing support because of what their constituents are saying against the tax hike.

McDonough agreed, calling it a "difficult battle."

"These folks down here [in Annapolis] don't know what to expect," he said of the Democrats.