Craig says 'NO' to gas tax as more residents voice opposition

During Gov. Martin O'Malley's State of the State address Wednesday, he stressed that his proposed budget was "a jobs budget."

"Maryland has some of the worst traffic in America," O'Malley said when addressing his already unpopular plan to add the state's 6 percent sales tax to the sale of gas.

He said the revenue from adding the 6 percent sales tax to gasoline purchases on top of the current 23.5 per gallon excise tax would go toward the transportation fund and create 7,500 jobs to improve roads and bridges.

One person skeptical of that statement: Harford County Executive David Craig.

Craig, who doesn't support the governor's plan, said even if the gas tax passed the Maryland General Assembly and the revenues did create thousands of jobs, Harford wouldn't see the benefits.

"When it comes to projects, it doesn't affect us on that side at all," Craig said. "The projects go toward the delegations [the counties] that vote for it [the tax]."

Craig, who is running for governor, added that a "substantial amount" of the revenue would go toward the purple MTA line — a proposed 16-mile light rail line that would go from Prince George's County to Montgomery County — and the Baltimore red line — which would be a 14-mile light rail line connecting various neighborhoods in the city.

"It wouldn't benefit the people who pay the tax," he said.

Those people in Harford County Craig has heard from on the matter are on his side.

"No one in Harford County has said, 'Yes, please,'' he joked. Contractors who, ideally, would be the recipients of those jobs, Craig added, also shared this sentiment. This is because, he said, the rise in gas costs would drive up the cost of projects contractors bid on. "It only hurts the citizens by making them pay more."

Commuters in Harford and Cecil counties could be hit especially hard, Craig commented, because of the recent toll increase at the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge and Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge that span the Susquehanna River that would be on top of the rise in costs at the pump.

"It's sort of like a double hit because they're getting hit with the gas tax and tolls," he said.

Residents seemed unanimously against the increase, and even supporters of O'Malley said they were not in favor of the plan during a rough economy.

"Not surprised," was the reaction from a woman filling up at a Bel Air gas station Thursday, who did not want to give her name. Other anonymous residents said the state "takes enough" and all the taxes have been "let go too long."

Bruce Boyle, who owns Pro Edge on Bel Air's Gordon Street, said he does more business in Delaware even though his shop is in Maryland because high taxes continue to drive Marylanders away.

"Everybody's moving," Boyle said, calling the gas tax "silly."

"Our governor has no guts. He's afraid that when he runs for president, he has to show all these things," he continued. "He is going to look more stupid… It's a shame that that's what we have come to."

Melissa McSorley, of Bel Air, wondered if residents even have a say in this proposal.

"Do we have a choice about it or not?" she asked. "We are hoping our delegates will be able to speak for the people, but at what point do the citizens have a part?"

McSorley said she is "not at all" surprised by the tax, adding she is a Republican and did not support O'Malley.

"They have already done an alcohol tax, a cigarette tax," she said. "I would just have to buy a smaller car."

Others also said their finances are already strained, and higher gas prices would affect their driving habits.

"It already has," James Stallings, of Bel Air, said, explaining the high prices already influence how much he drives.

Stallings said he supports O'Malley on most issues.

"This is an area I disagree with," he said. "I think we are being gouged at the pump anyway by the oil suppliers, and a gas tax will just hit those who can least afford it…Oil companies are making record profits."

Tabitha Grace, of Havre de Grace, said she has to drive to classes in Baltimore County, and higher gas prices would prompt her to consider walking to more places and change parts of her lifestyle.

"I am not happy with that at all," Grace said of the tax proposal, explaining she is a single mother with two children.

"It's already hard enough trying to maintain a household of two [children]," she said. "Eighteen cents doesn't sound like a lot, but it is. I really don't think it's necessary. It's not a good call, at all."

In O'Malley's address, he recognized that families are still feeling the effects of the recession. Improving the roads and infrastructures, however, and raising that money, "nobody else is going to do this for us except for us," he said.

When asked what he would do to lessen the state's budget deficit if he was in the governor's shoes, Craig said he would do the same at the state level as he does in the county: establish project priorities and realign them according to what money is available. He also questioned the efficiency at the state's administrative level.

"Don't start spending more money for other things when you don't have enough money to spend on what you've been doing," Craig said.

Besides encouraging Harford County's legislators to vote against the bill, Craig intends to testify against it, as well.

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