Get unlimited digital access to baltimoresun.com. $0.99 for 4 weeks.
News Opinion Readers Respond

Franchot: Gas tax increase won't save the bay

Of all the arguments I have heard to support an increase in Maryland's gas tax, the oddest by far is the notion — as expressed recently by Karen Hosler — that doing so would be good for the environment ("Can a Gas Tax Increase Save the Bay?" Feb. 26). Proponents of this theory suggest that, by raising gas prices to levels that would be painful if not impossible for working people to bear, Annapolis lawmakers could force countless families to overhaul their daily routine by leaving their cars in the driveway. Or failing that, inspire them to head to their local car dealerships to trade their current vehicles in for newer, "greener" models.

In better times, this notion could be gently dismissed as a well-intentioned but impractical strategy for addressing our environmental challenges. In our current economic climate, however, it reflects a callous indifference to working people throughout our state who are working harder than ever just to keep a roof over their heads, feed their families and save for college and retirement.

Ms. Hosler writes that "to the extent that Marylanders find the gas tax so burdensome that they drive less or trade up to more fuel-efficient vehicles, the bay gets a little breathing space." Where, exactly, is a typical Maryland family expected to find such opportunities to "drive less?" People need to drive to work. They need to drop their kids off at school and then take them to Little League practice. They need to run the essential errands of a typical family, from the stops at the grocery store every week to those trips to the family doctor.

It is far more likely that people who are able to do so will cross state boundaries to purchase their gas for a significantly lower price. Those who can't will grudgingly pay the higher prices at the pump but will forced to cut back on other purchases. Either way, Maryland's small businesses — which create local jobs, pay state taxes and give back to their communities in countless ways — will be adversely affected.

Contrary to Ms. Hosler's hopes, it is just as unrealistic to believe that people will respond by hitting their local showrooms in search of new hybrid cars.

According to federal data, the State of Maryland ranked 48th nationally in wage growth in 2011 and was one of only eight states where hourly wages actually declined during that period. The basic laws of economics and common sense suggest that people who are bringing home smaller paychecks, and thus have less disposable income, will be increasingly reluctant to spend money for non-essential purchases.

As a 20-year veteran of the Maryland House of Delegates and now as comptroller, I have been a passionate, consistent supporter of measures to protect the Chesapeake Bay from sprawl development while expanding our state's transit network. As the state's chief fiscal officer, though, I'm aware that the Maryland economy is still powered primarily by consumer spending. It should go without saying that we cannot revive a consumer-driven economy by digging deeper into the pockets of families who are already struggling to make ends meet. I agree with Ms. Hosler that improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay should be a priority, but the gas tax is simply the wrong prescription at the worst possible time.

Peter Franchot, Annapolis

The writer, a Democrat, is Maryland's comptroller.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Cleaner waters mean safer children
    Cleaner waters mean safer children

    A key consideration has always been missing from the debate over funding for cleaning up stormwater damaged waterways and the "rain tax" ("Backtracking on the bay," Jan. 23). All Maryland homes are but a short walk from the nearest waterway. For many, the nearest waterway is a small headwater...

  • Big ships on the Chesapeake Bay follow strict environmental safety rules
    Big ships on the Chesapeake Bay follow strict environmental safety rules

    Please allow me to correct some of the points letter writer Bernard Helinski recently made regarding ships' ballast water polluting the Chesapeake Bay ("Ship ballast a major source of pollution," Jan. 7).

  • The Hogan environmental agenda
    The Hogan environmental agenda

    In appointing former Harford County Executive David Craig to head Maryland's planning department last week, Gov.-elect Larry Hogan acknowledged he's sensitive to criticism of anti-sprawl policies collectively known as "smart growth." He promised to "take a look at" the complaints of local...

  • Ship ballast a major source of pollution
    Ship ballast a major source of pollution

    The Chesapeake Bay Foundation was gracious in giving the polluted waters of the Chesapeake Bay a D-plus. It should have been an F-minus ("Bay grade remains D+ despite improvements," Jan. 5). A major culprit involved with the bay's increased pollution is the shipping industry.

  • Big Chicken must help pay for bay cleanup
    Big Chicken must help pay for bay cleanup

    Dan Rodricks was right on the mark that Maryland's next governor needs to address pollution from agriculture and "consider some common-sense ideas for dealing with the phosphorous runoff." ("Larry Hogan has a chance to be a green governor," Dec. 13).

  • Excess phosphorous is killing the bay
    Excess phosphorous is killing the bay

    In the days following Dan Rodricks' column "Larry Hogan has a chance to be a green governor" (Dec. 13), your paper has been flooded with letters opposing the phosphorus management tool (PMT) regulations and opposing Mr. Rodricks position. On the surface it would seem that both letters in...

  • Mr. Hogan picks the wrong 'first fight'
    Mr. Hogan picks the wrong 'first fight'

    When farmers' own records show they are spreading far more phosphorus on their fields than is needed to fertilize their crops and studies have demonstrated conclusively that nutrient runoff from those same fields is killing the Chesapeake Bay, attention must be paid. Yet Maryland's incoming...

  • The truth about poultry and pollution
    The truth about poultry and pollution

    A letter published in The Sun on Dec. 19, "Rodricks wrong on Bay pollution," asserted that a report by the Environmental Integrity Project that columnist Dan Rodricks quoted was wrong because it stated that poultry farmers on Maryland's Eastern Shore are polluting the Chesapeake Bay by...

Comments
Loading