Half-cent tax hike boosts already record-high gas prices

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A few years ago, Tom Leasure got rid of his "fun" car, a Mustang convertible, in favor of a more practical Toyota.

Ninety percent of the reasoning for Leasure’s decision was economical -- a response to rising gas prices, he said -- struggles that will only increase beginning with Tuesday’s gas tax increase in Maryland.

As part of 2013’s gas tax legislation, which will phase in over the course of several years, prices are set to increase by about a half-cent Tuesday. Last July, the state saw a tax increase of 3.5 cents per gallon on gasoline, and in January prices will rise an additional 3.5 cents.

The legislation included adjustments to account for inflation, the reason for this month's increase of less than half a penny per gallon.

The scheduled increase coincides with the highest gas costs both nationwide and statewide in six years, when the price per gallon was more than $4 per gallon.

Friday, the country’s average gasoline price was $3.68 per gallon, 15 cents higher than this time last year, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic. The average price in Maryland was just slightly higher, at $3.70 per gallon, a 21-cent increase from last year.

For Leasure, who is unable to restrict his driving because he uses his car for work, the increase in price comes as no surprise.

“We’ve enjoyed relative luxury for over 20 years compared to other countries,” said Leasure, an Eldersburg native. “What we need to do is loosen restrictions on our own natural resources to prevent ourselves from being held hostage by the world.”

Maryland ranks 25th in the nation for highest motor fuel tax rate on gas, according to a news release from AAA Mid-Atlantic. Virginia and Washington, D.C., which both recently created a new tax rate for drivers, are ranked 5th lowest and 31st highest respectively. Both are below Maryland’s gas tax rate.

Joe Duckworth of Hampstead noticed the sharp differences between states in recent travels to Virginia and South Carolina, noting that in southern Virginia, the price of gasoline was almost 60 cents less per gallon than in Westminster.

And even though today’s increase is slight, especially compared to January’s upcoming increase, Duckworth said it adds a burden to local drivers.

“You can feel it, even if it’s just like $60 total, not $55,” Duckworth said. “Any time it’s going up, it makes a difference. It’s certainly not going down.”

The legislation, which passed in March 2013, was the first increase in 20 years for the state. Initial projections predicted the tax increase would raise $4.4 billion over six years for the state transportation fund, which the Washington Post reported was running out of money for both road construction and mass-transit projects.

At the time, officials expected that motorists would see gas prices at 13 to 20 cents more expensive by mid-2016.