Bonus research

I was writing something the other day as a possible addition to another venue, and in doing the research kept the link on my bookmark bar for future reference. Well, as it turns out I didn’t need the extra research for the other piece but I wanted to make my point on the subject. So here are more of my thoughts on the prospect of an additional Maryland gasoline tax – something I originally¬†visited in January.

The two pieces I found were comparisons – one being the current gasoline tax table provided by the Tax Foundation which shows Maryland’s gasoline tax rate is currently tied for 29th among the 50 states. The second is an older comparison table that I found, and the reason I wanted it was to determine where Maryland’s gasoline tax ranked among its peers when it was adopted in 1992. (I couldn’t find 1992, but figured 1994 was close enough.)

It’s quite telling to me that back in 1994 our state had one of the highest gasoline tax rates, with only a handful of states charging more: Connecticut, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, and West Virginia. Worse yet, only Montana, Nevada, Rhode Island, and West Virginia charged more tax on diesel fuel. In 1994 our taxes were a full 30% higher than the national average, but because states have began to add various other fees and local tariffs we remain above the average insofar as excise tax is concerned but slightly below the mean in overall taxation per gallon. Apparently 20 years is long enough and we have to break out of the pack and lead the country once again.

Since several states now add various amounts of sales tax to the price of gasoline at the pump, it’s difficult to accurately say just where Maryland would rank if gasoline prices were significantly higher or lower than they are today should they adopt Governor O’Malley’s idea of an additional sales tax phased in over three years. But it’s obvious we would be paying more at the pump regardless of the price – even if Newt Gingrich could get gasoline back down to $2.50 per gallon that’s still an extra 15 cents per gallon, or around $2-3 per fillup depending on tank size. At $4 per gallon the fee goes up to perhaps $4-5 for every tankful.

(Note that there’s also a number of alternative plans being floated around for a straight per-gallon excise tax increase, which would make the impact more easily gauged. Adding 15 cents per gallon, as one proposal advocates, would put us just a tick behind North Carolina as the highest-taxing state in terms of excise tax.)

Regardless of what proposal to increase fuel tax is adopted, when combined with the additional tolls being charged by the Maryland Transportation Authority at their facilities (including the Bay Bridge) the cost of getting around via car will certainly jump. By next summer driving across the state from Cumberland to Ocean City and back on a 12-gallon tankful of gas each way may well cost $15 extra in taxes and tolls alone from the price in 2011 – before the new tolls were adopted for the Bay Bridge and other MTA facilities.

The stated reason for the increases are quite simple: the state claims it doesn’t have enough money for road and bridge construction. Yet the MTA toll increases spared the Inter-County Connector and gasoline taxes tend to come down harder on rural residents who have to drive farther to work and shopping. In sum, they tend to serve as a wealth transfer from rural to urban dwellers, particularly in the Washington metro area because the ICC tolls did not go up. Moreover, the tendency for gasoline taxes to be spent on mass transit provides a further shift in prosperity from rural to urban; one particularly galling when a mostly empty train or bus goes by.

The main reason the state “needs” this tax increase, though, is to patch over the holes created by several administrations by raiding the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF). It’s an art which has been perfected by Martin O’Malley because he wasted the $1 billion-plus raised by a series of 2007 tax increases Democrats rammed through the General Assembly on a program of further spending rather than simply addressing the vital functions the state is supposed to provide. So now he and Annapolis Democrats are coming back to the people of the state with hat in hand begging for more, and promising this time they’ll “protect” the TTF. Well, I want the protection first, and a number of bills in the General Assembly deal with this. Unfortunately, Delegate Norm “Five Dollar” Conway and Senator Edward Kasemeyer don’t seem to have much desire to move these bills. But I’ll bet they’ll move that gas tax along in a hurry.

It’s quite likely that over the next few years our gas prices will either be going up at an accelerated rate or not dropping as quickly as they could because the state of Maryland will take a larger bite from our wallet through the gas tax. Maryland doesn’t seem to want to be a national leader in anything except loony liberalism and high taxation, and the controversy over highway funding provides another perfect example.

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