PERRY HALL — Maryland Republican lawmakers at the state and federal level are urging Democrats to act to lower gas prices.
Republican candidates, led by Del. Kathy Szeliga and U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, called on state and federal officials to pause the gas tax for the rest of the year.
“We’re urging Annapolis to do something right now to bring some relief. But it’s kind of gimmicky because it’s only going to put a Band-Aid on the problem,” Szeliga said. “What we really need is Washington, D.C., to address America’s energy crisis.”
Topping the list of desired relief efforts for Szeliga, Harris and other Republicans is a moratorium on the state and federal fuel excise taxes for the rest of 2022.
Maryland’s current 36.1-cent tax will increase to nearly 43 cents Friday. The federal tax is 18 cents per gallon of regular gasoline.
“Everything delivered here is delivered by truck,” said Szeliga, standing outside a gas station convenience store. “Beyond the pain at the pump we have the pain at the store.”
The continued push for economic relief comes as Democrats and Republicans battle to control the narrative for the 2022 election season.
Democrats are hoping to overcome what has historically been difficult midterm elections for the party that controls the White House by focusing voter anger on several controversial Supreme Court decisions. Republicans want voters to focus on surging inflation and the pinch felt at the gas pump and nearly every other aspect of daily life.
“The solution for this should come out of Washington,” said Harris, who represents Maryland’s 1st Congressional District and is the state’s lone Republican federal lawmaker.
Harris called for more oil and gas leases, fast-tracking liquified natural gas export permits, expediting pipeline permitting, and an ease on regulations governing energy development and financing.
He also called for President Joseph Biden to rescind his decision blocking permits for the Keystone Pipeline project.
Biden last week called for a temporary halt to the federal tax. Members of his own party have turned a cold shoulder to the proposal, worried that a decrease in revenues will hurt federal transportation aid, and experts are skeptical that the measure would result in meaningful savings at the pump.
Last week, Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader from Maryland, said it was unclear if Democrats have the votes to pass Biden’s plan, according to The Associated Press.
Similarly, state Democratic lawmakers have rejected a second gas tax holiday. Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones have rejected calls for them to hold a special session.
Jones and Ferguson said in a statement last month that eliminating the upcoming state tax increase “would not result in Marylanders seeing a price reduction at the pump but would be a loss of over $200 million in funding dedicated to ensuring the safety of our State’s roads and bridges.”
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, each repeatedly insist the other has the power to pause the state tax. Despite those claims, it is not clear either has the authority to act without legislative action.
A 30-day moratorium cost the state about $100 million based on the current tax rate. Hogan and lawmakers reached an agreement to use $100 million from a projected historic $7 billion surplus to make up for lost revenues earmarked for state transportation aid.
Hogan could call the legislature back but so far has shown no interest in doing so. Lack of an agreement with the legislature and the potential that the Democratic supermajority could override some or all of his final vetoes or act on other legislation such as an amendment to the state constitution on abortion could be impediments.
Republicans nationally have blamed Biden for both the spikes in inflation and higher energy prices — especially those at the pump. Democrats counter that Russia’s war in Ukraine is driving up oil prices worldwide.
The U.S. imposed sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. Prior to that, Russian oil amounted to about 8% of the total imported into the United States and about 4% of what is consumed nationally.
Biden canceled permits that would have allowed TransCanada, now known as TC, to build a 1,500-mile pipeline. The project, when completed, had been expected to move about 35 million gallons of oil daily to U.S. refineries.
TC has since announced it has canceled that project because of Biden’s decision.
According to federal data, gas prices fell to $1.87 in late April 2020. By December 2020, prices had increased to $2.33. Since Nov. 9, 2020, the cost of a gallon of gas has more than doubled.
Demand, however, has increased since the low-water marks of two years ago. Then, more people were driving less and working from home more as the nation dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic.