U.S. Rep. Harris pushes suspension of state but not federal gasoline tax ahead of automatic state increase

U.S. Rep. Harris pushes suspension of state but not federal gasoline tax ahead of automatic state increase
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With Maryland’s gas tax scheduled to increase automatically by about 7 cents this week, the state’s only Republican member of Congress said Monday that while he doesn’t support reigning in the 18-cent federal gas tax, Maryland officials should suspend the state-level tax for the rest of the year.

The state tax is tied to inflation and set to increase Friday from around 36 cents to about 43 cents per gallon. Legislative leaders have declined to pass emergency legislation to stop the price hike even as drivers continue to bemoan the cost of fuel.

The national average for a gallon of gas was just under $4.90 both in Maryland and nationwide Monday.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, said last week he’d like to see a three-month suspension of the federal 18-cent gas tax, but his plans appear doomed to come up short in Congress.

Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, speaking Monday with state and Baltimore County officials at a High’s gas station in Perry Hall, railed against Biden’s overall energy policies while saying he has concerns over how a federal gas tax holiday would be paid for.

But it’s a different story at the state level, Harris said, arguing that leaders in Maryland’s General Assembly should use the billions of dollars in budget reserves and federal pandemic aid to alleviate drivers’ upcoming 43-cent gas tax for the next six months.

“The money is sitting there. It’s federal dollars that have already been spent,” Harris said.

By contrast, he pointed out that a federal tax holiday would require officials to “borrow every penny to pay for it.”

Del. Kathy Szeliga, standing alongside Harris near where drivers were filling up for $4.68 per gallon, said it likely would cost less than $1 billion of the state’s $7.5 billion budget surplus for a six-month gas tax holiday.

“This is harming single moms, college students, retirees. We are urging Annapolis to do something right now and bring some relief,” said Szeliga, a Baltimore County Republican.

Her comments followed renewed calls last week from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan for legislative leaders to prevent the state’s automatic increase.

House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson, in turn, reiterated their statement from late May raising concerns about losing funds for road and bridge maintenance projects. The increase to the state’s gas tax, which pays for those projects, is estimated to raise an additional $200 million in revenue in the next year.

“States cannot unilaterally bear the burden of increased gas prices driven in part by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s aggression in Ukraine and in part by the corporate greed of oil companies bringing in record profits,” Democrats Jones, of Baltimore County, and Ferguson, of Baltimore, said in the statement.

Legislators and the governor approved a 30-day gas tax holiday in March as Russia’s war in Ukraine accelerated gas prices that already had been rising because of increasing demand and supply chain issues emerging from the pandemic.

Szeliga, calling for a six-month holiday now, said it still would be “kind of gimmicky because it’s only going to be a Band-Aid on the problem.”

She and Harris, both up for reelection this year along with all of the state’s congressmen and General Assembly members, blamed the Biden administration for a temporary pause on leasing oil and gas drilling on federal land and for canceling the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline, which analysts have said are not the causes of the current price hikes.