With the price of gasoline rapidly climbing toward $4 per gallon, the prospect of paying an additional tax on gas is not sitting well with county residents and businesses.
"Another 18 cents per gallon?" Columbia resident Nick Smalley said, after being told how much officials are expecting the tax to cost. "That would be ridiculous."
Gov.Martin O'Malleyhas proposed applying the state's 6 percent sales tax to gasoline, an increase officials estimate would cost between 18 to 21 cents at current prices, and using the money to replenish the state's Transportation Trust Fund, created to pay for road and bridge projects but tapped over the years for other uses.
If approved by the General Assembly, the tax would be phased in at 2 percent per year, starting June 1.
"I'm not looking forward to it," 22-year-old Ellicott City resident Nick Bennett said about O'Malley's proposal as he filled up his tank Feb. 20 at the Exxon station at the corner of Little Patuxent and Governor Warfield parkways.
Bennett said gas prices are already "bad enough" — $3.73 for regular at the Columbia Exxon that day — and he can't cut down on consumption because he has to get to work in Clarksville and school at Howard Community College in Columbia.
The average price for gas in the state of Maryland was $3.62 per gallon as of Feb. 21, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Christine Delise. One year ago, she said, the average gas price was $3.12 a gallon.
Since the beginning of 2012, when the average gas price was $3.26 a gallon, prices have increased by 11 percent, Delise said.
"We are anticipating that prices could approach $4 in the spring," she said.
Prices could still be high in June, when the governor's proposal would take effect, as Delise said prices typically peak around May and stay steady until about August, when they start to decline.
Columbia resident Kim Reyes, 48, said O'Malley's proposal to apply the sales tax to gasoline is "unbelievable," especially given how high prices have been lately.
"It's kind of hard on everybody, including me and my family," she said at the Columbia Exxon Feb. 20. "We rarely go out now because gas is so expensive."
Tom Kravulski, 28, said his commute from his home in Columbia to his job in Rockville has him filling up his 20-gallon tank about once a week. After quickly calculating the math as he pumped gas into his car at the Exxon, he said the sales tax on gasoline would cost "an extra couple bucks a week," and an extra $200 some a year.
"It's not something I'm really happy about," Kravulski said. "I would have to cut expenses elsewhere I guess."
Smalley, 26, said he doesn't drive too often, mostly to and from his job in Ellicott City and errands he runs in between.
"There's not a whole lot I can cut down on what I drive," he said.
The gas-guzzling truck that Smalley drives already has him paying more in gas than most people. He said his truck only gets 12-15 miles per gallon. Thus, his reaction to hearing about a possible gas tax increase: "This kind of makes me wish I had my little brother's Ford Focus."
Smalley said that a gas tax increase would be an annoyance to him personally, but he foresees it having a greater impact on the landscaping company where he works as a supervisor. Ellicott City-based D.A. Picco, Smalley said, has to put gas in its pick-up trucks, dump trucks, as well as various gas-powered lawn-care tools.
Earl Doornbos, store manager of Good to Go Markets, which rents space from Sunco at the Long Gate Shopping Center gas station where Smalley was filling up his tank, said applying the sales tax to gasoline is "really outrageous.
"That's really digging into the pockets," he said.
Local businesses that use gas are also not thrilled at the prospect of an additional tax.
"I'm not worried about (gas prices) yet, but if they add the tax to it and the fuels keep going up, it's going to be a problem for everyone," said Rick Brown, owner of Brown's Hauling in Jessup.
Brown said he spends about $1,000 a month buying diesel fuel for his business' two trucks. He said he would likely have to pass on the additional cost of a gas tax increase to his customers.
That's also what Ali Abong, owner of Columbia Taxi Service, said he would have to do.
"Usually when that happens, the consumer will kind of protest or stop using us for a while until they get used to the idea," he said.
Abong said he has 12 cabs in his fleet, which each use about $400 worth of gas a week.
"Obviously, when gas goes up, it affects us a great deal because we spend quite a bit of money on gas," he said.
Angela Elswick, executive vice president of Eyre Bus Service Inc., in Glenelg, said her company purchased nearly 425,000 gallons of gas last year. She said O'Malley's plan would cost Eyre thousands of extra dollars a year, a cost that would likely to be transferred to the customers.
"We're being taxed so much in the state of Maryland, people are looking to go elsewhere," Elswick said. "Instead of taxing people more and more, and taking more from the different funds, they should look at the spending."
The Howard County Chamber of Commerce opposes O'Malley's proposal, noting concerns about the timing and structure of the bill.
Kesa Bruce, the chamber's director of legislative affairs, said in an emailed statement: "This bill will drive up the cost of doing business at a time when our members, and businesses throughout the state, are still working hard to recover from a variety of economic challenges. The bill also contains elements, including a lack of adequate protections to ensure funds are used solely for transportation projects, that make it impossible for us to support the legislation in its present form."