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Protest planned for O’Malley’s gas tax proposal

Marylanders opposed to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed extension of the sales tax to gasoline will gather in Annapolis Wednesday, less than an hour before the governor is slated to testify on a bill that includes the increase.

HB 1302, the Maryland Transportation Financing and Infrastructure Act, essentially calls for the state’s 6 percent sales tax to apply to fuel purchases. Gasoline is already taxed at a flat rate of 23 cents per gallon.

O’Malley’s plan calls for a 2 percent sales tax to be enacted on top of the existing 23-cent fuel tax for fiscal 2013, with an additional 2 percentage points tacked on in each of the next two years. The money would go to the state’s Transportation Trust Fund and be used for road and transit projects.

The Maryland chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a group that opposes tax increases and encourages cuts in government spending, will demonstrate in opposition to the gas tax increase at 12:20 p.m. at Lawyers Mall. The House Ways and Means and Environmental Matters committees will hold a joint hearing on HB 1302 Wednesday at 1 p.m.

With prices at the pump still on the rise — up to nearly $3.80 a gallon, according to AAA — opponents have said O’Malley’s proposal would be a tremendous burden on the state’s middle class.

“This is a terrible idea,” said Nick Loffer, Americans for Prosperity’s grassroots director in Maryland. “It’s unaffordable, unacceptable and unprecedented. … He [O’Malley] should be abandoning this.”

Del. C. William Frick, D-Montgomery, said that while the committee had to consider how the tax might negatively affect Marylanders, state transit projects are woefully underfunded.

“I definitely support doing something about our backlog of transportation projects,” said Frick, a member of the Ways and Means Committee. “We are dealing with 2012 era transportation problems with a 1992 gas tax.”

In Montgomery County, the Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway — which would create express bus service between the Shady Grove Metro Station in Rockville out the Interstate 270 corridor northwest of Germantown — would both benefit from additional transportation funding, Frick said.

“A lot of people’s lives are spent sitting on the [Interstate 495] beltway,” he said.

About 200 people are expected to rally Wednesday afternoon, but Loffer said the most important part of the day would come when people went before the committees to testify on how the tax increase would affect them in their day to day lives.

“What really matters is the business community, and individual people that have to deal with the governor’s poor budgeting decisions,” Loffer said. “It’s going to be about the people: how this hurts business owners and individuals struggling in a recession.”