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Drivers mostly shrug off initial 1 percent rise in price of gas

Considering Maryland’s already-high taxes, one might imagine that hiking the cost of gas even a few cents would aggravate residents and maybe change some driving habits.

gas tax increase

Mike Porter, an air conditioning technician, pumped more than $100 into a company truck at a Royal Farms store on Russell Street in Baltimore on Monday, a total boosted by about $1 by the new state gas tax. (Maximilian Franz / The Daily Record)

However, many drivers at the pump Monday responded to the increase with only a disappointed shrug.

“Gas is already high,” said Michael Lyle, a self-employed handyman who was gassing up at a Royal Farms store on Russell Street in Baltimore.

The gas tax increase was passed in May and took effect Monday, adding a 1 percent sales tax to the existing 23.5-cent-per-gallon excise tax. This meant that Maryland drivers now pay 3.5 cents more per gallon of gas; two more 1 percent increases are set to take effect in 2015 with a third possibly coming in 2016. Furthermore, gas prices will be linked to the Consumer Price Index to adjust for inflation.

Gov. Martin O’Malley and other supporters of the increase say it will keep the state from running out of money for new transportation projects (which it was on pace to do by 2017) that would help reduce the state’s notoriously heavy traffic. According to the O’Malley administration, the increase will bring an average of $800 million per year into the Transportation Trust Fund.

But opponents of the tax hike have decried its effect on lower-income drivers. Del. Nic Kipke, an Anne Arundel County Republican and the House minority leader, said Maryland doesn’t need new taxes.

“Before all of these unnecessary tax increases to into effect, Maryland was already the fifth-highest cost-of-living state in the nation,” Kipke said, as reported by The Associated Press, “and I’m concerned these new costs just increase the hardship of lower- and middle-income people.”

In February, Michele L. Whelley, president and CEO of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, expressed concern that most Maryland residents had not been properly informed of the tax increase’s potential pros and cons. Bearing this out, on Monday, Lyle said he had not heard the tax increase was coming, and Ojirese Mamoh, an athletic trainer from Prince George’s County, indicated he did not know what the increase would accomplish.

“I don’t see the point,” Mamoh said at the Royal Farms.

None of the drivers interviewed said they would drive less as a result of the tax.

“You [have to] get there,” said Mike Porter, an air conditioning technician for Boland, a Gaithersburg-based HVAC company. At Russell Street, Porter put nearly 30 gallons of gas into his company’s Ford E-250, which cost $103, $1.05 of which was a result of the tax increase. However, Porter said, the increase wouldn’t seriously affect him outside of work, since the van’s gas is covered by his employer.

Then there are those who will be affected the least. Justin Johnson, a nurse at the University of Maryland Medical Center, said he drives only about twice a week because he lives close to the hospital, meaning a quarter-tank can last him two weeks.

Still, “it’s something,” said Johnson, who added that his commuting co-workers would be affected more by the tax increase.

Elmer Schultz, a Baltimore tile worker, was even less bothered by the tax increase.

“I’m from West Virginia, and [gas] is cheaper here [in Baltimore],” said Schultz.