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Politics

Maryland governor, comptroller tell each other to prevent state’s automatic gas tax increase in July

Two of Maryland’s top state officials said Monday they want a reprieve from an upcoming increase to the state’s gas tax — and they’re each pointing at the other to get it done.

The tax, which is tied to inflation, is scheduled to increase automatically from around 36 cents to about 43 cents per gallon on July 1 as drivers are continuing to feel a squeeze on skyrocketing prices at the pump. The average price Monday of a gallon of gas was $4.60 nationally and $4.61 in Maryland, according to the automotive group AAA.

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In March, Maryland lawmakers passed a gas tax holiday. However, they did not extend it beyond 30 days, despite some calls to do so. Nor, during their legislative session that ended in April, did they alter the law tying the tax to inflation.

“This tax increase, while hardship-inducing for Marylanders at any time, is simply unconscionable at this moment when gas prices are already at their highest level in recorded history amid a period of prolonged inflation and economic uncertainty,” Republican Gov. Larry Hogan wrote Monday in a letter to Democratic State Comptroller Peter Franchot.

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Hogan, who supported a bill this year to end the automatic increase tied to inflation, asked Franchot to “halt or minimize the impact” of the impending increase.

He called on Franchot to “use every legal and regulatory power at your disposal to halt or minimize the impact of the accelerating gas taxes,” and to “consider granting an extension for paying the taxes and removing penalties for unpaid tax, including the revocation of business licenses.”

Hogan referred to the longtime comptroller’s steps in recent years to unilaterally extend tax deadlines, but did not specifically cite any legal methods for Franchot to stop the automatic increase.

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Franchot, in turn, called on the governor to issue a “State of Energy Emergency,” which he said would provide relief from the current tax and prevent the hike. But the governor’s office said the law the comptroller cited in suggesting such a step applies to supply shortages, not taxes and fees, according to The Associated Press.

Gas prices have surged to record heights as economic sanctions on Russia for its war in Ukraine have affected global markets and supply chains continue to be strained while the economy recovers from the pandemic. Meanwhile, various states have enacted all manner of tax breaks to help offset inflation.

In his own letter to Hogan, Franchot said he was exploring his office’s regulatory and legal authority to take any other steps. Still, a spokeswoman for his office, Susan O’Brien, said, “There is no provision that allows the Comptroller to unilaterally halt or suspend the automatic increase to the gas tax.”

“Delaying motor fuel tax returns, as the governor seems to be suggesting, would have no impact on consumers who are suffering at the pump. It would only help Big Oil delay their tax payments,” O’Brien said.

Franchot, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for governor to replace the term-limited Republican Hogan, has called for an extension of the gas tax holiday for another four months. Any lost revenue could be replaced with a historic state budget surplus, as it was during the 30-day holiday earlier this spring, Franchot said in his letter.

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The bill the General Assembly passed in March for the 30-day tax break included nearly $100 million the state was expected to forgo for its transportation trust fund, which pays for road and transit projects.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.


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