Republican lawmakers marked Monday's hikes in fees, gas taxes and tolls in Maryland by protesting what they called a "virtual downpour" of increases that they blamed on Gov. Martin O'Malley.
As a result of legislation backed by O'Malley and passed by the General Assembly this year, the state's tax on gasoline increased 3.5 cents a gallon -- the first of several phased-in increases between now and 2016. In addition, the second phase of a toll increase adopted by the Maryland Transportation Authority in 2011 went into effect Monday.
At a new conference on Kent Island, GOP legislators questioned the need for the increases in transportation-related charges. They also heaped scorn on the stormwater fees, imposed on residents of Maryland's 10 largest jurisdictions, that they have dubbed "the rain tax."
Senate Minority Leader E. J. Pipkin called the fees "an economy blight and a job killer."
"Businesses will not want to locate in a state that imposes a rain tax that can equal or exceed their property tax bill," said Pipkin, who represents the Upper Shore. "This tax alone threatens to turn Maryland from a business-unfriendly state into a business-hostile state."
The fees are intended to provide money to mitigate the pollution effects of runoff from impervious surfaces such as roofs and parking lots. The General Assembly voted in 2012 to require large jurisdictions to adopt such fees -- which are now beginning to take effect.
Republican lawmakers also criticized the O'Malley administration over the gas tax increase, which they noted could raise the per-gallon levy from 23.5 cents before Monday to 41.5 cents by 2015.
Before Monday's increase, the tax had remained level since 1992 -- leaving the Transportation Trust Fund depleted to the point where projects to add capacity had virtually ground to a halt. The transportation authority said the toll increase was necessary to meet payments on its bonds and to keep up with the maintenance of its aging bridges, tunnels and highways.
But Republican lawmakers, who voted unanimously against the tax increase, emphasized the effect on the people who must pay the higher costs.
"When the gas tax is added to bridge, tunnel and road toll increases, many of which have doubled, Maryland motorists will be saddled with a highly inflated driving cost and as business shipping and delivery costs skyrocket, it is the consumers who will bear the brunt of rising prices of just about all consumer goods, including food and clothing," said.
Senate Minority Whip Edward R. Reilly of Anne Arundel County.
House GOP leaders also got their licks in against O'Malley.
"For the past seven years, the O'Malley administration has beaten Maryland taxpayers bloody with over 70 tax, fee and toll increases," said House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, who represents Baltimore and Harford counties. "I doubt highly that during the same time period, any other state has imposed such shameful and unconscionable tax, fee and toll
increases on its constituents."