Here's a New Year's jolt for drivers of trucks, buses and cars that run on diesel fuel: Beginning today, be prepared to pay more at the pump in Maryland.
The state's tax on diesel fuel today rose 2 1/2 cents to 21.75 cents a gallon from 19.25 cents a gallon under a law passed by the General Assembly last year.
The increase is part of a 5-cent boost in motor fuel taxes that the legislature approved in April to help finance highway and transit improvements across the state.
Before diesel consumers bemoan the tax increase, take note: Automobile drivers and other gasoline buyers have been paying the full 5-cent increase since May 1 when the state gasoline tax jumped to 23.5 cents a gallon from 18.5 cents a gallon.
The legislature decided to phase in the tax increase on diesel fuel with 2 1/2 cents today and the other 2 1/2 cents next July 1.
Legislators said they wanted to give the owners of truck stops a break since they feared interstate truckers might simply bypass Maryland stops if the diesel prices went up all at once.
Critics said the phase-in was the result of some artful lobbying by Baltimore businessman John Paterakis, who owns, among other things, an East Baltimore truck stop.
Mr. Paterakis is a longtime supporter of Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
Walter C. Thompson, executive vice president of the Maryland Motor Truck Association, estimated that the delay has saved the trucking industry $14 million at a time when most carriers continue to feel the effects of recession.
Even so, the 2 1/2 -cent tax boost "will increase costs of anyone operating trucks in or through Maryland," Mr. Thompson said.
"It's going to have a tremendous impact."
In Millersville, the manager of the New Transit and Truck Stop along Interstate 97 said he is raising the price for a gallon of diesel fuel 2 cents today from $1.19 to $1.21.9, temporarily absorbing the remaining half-cent in tax.
"I don't see how this could not hurt us," said Les Simmons, the truck stop's manager.
"I don't think the state understands that people can go get their fuel in New Jersey or Virginia instead."
A survey in December by the American Automobile Association found Maryland's diesel prices slightly above the Mid-Atlantic states' average of $1.22.5 a gallon at self-service pumps but lower than the Washington area's average of $1.31.4 a gallon last month.
The timing of the tax may improve its public acceptance. It comes after a year of declining prices. According to the Maryland Division of AAA Mid-Atlantic, the average self-serve price of diesel in Maryland last month was $1.24.3 a gallon
compared with $1.26.0 one year ago.