Letter to MDGA Leadership re: the proposed suspension of the Maryland gas tax

Adrienne Jones, Speaker
Maryland House of Delegates
State House, H-101
State Circle, Annapolis, MD 21401 

Bill Ferguson, President
Maryland Senate
State House, H-107 100
State Circle, Annapolis, MD 21401 – 1991 

Dear Speaker Jones and Senate President Ferguson, 

On behalf of the Transform Maryland Transportation Coalition (formerly Save MD Transit), we thank you for your support of the Transit Safety & Investment Act during the 2021 General Assembly. The bill will help assure MTA’s current maintenance needs will be addressed over the next five years. 

At the same time, we are disappointed by your hurried support of Governor Hogan’s proposal to suspend the Maryland gas tax for 30 days and urge you to instead pursue more equitable, sustainable alternatives. We understand that Marylanders are dealing with significant inflation, including the rising price of gas. However, in light of the unmistakable climate crisis we are facing, we believe there is an opportunity to respond in ways that will be more effective, both in the near and long-term. 

In the near-term, suspending the gas tax is regressive, too indirect, and likely to be counterproductive. It is regressive because people who drive the most, and therefore purchase more gas, tend to be higher income than people who drive less or not at all – including nearly a third of Baltimore City residents who don’t own an automobile. Research from the Washington State Transportation Commission has shown that fuel taxes in Washington, the state with the highest state gas tax, comprise only 4 percent of transportation costs for low-income households. For households that rely on bus and light rail, the suspension of the gas tax could be harmful if it results in cuts to bus and rail service and less investment in maintenance of roads, tracks, and other necessary infrastructure. 

It is too indirect because the savings would likely be pocketed at least in part by distributors and gas stations, rather than being passed on to consumers at the pump. 

And it is likely to be counterproductive because it will stimulate more driving and demand for gas, creating upward pressure on gas prices. 

A more targeted and equitable alternative would be to provide stipend checks directly to lower income residents in the state. 

In the long term, Maryland needs to build greater resilience into our transportation system so we are less vulnerable to spikes in gas prices. Maryland needs to make it easier for people and goods to get where they need to go without making the climate worse. Also, the more we do to break free from our unhealthy dependence on oil, the less we will continue to prop up petrostates like Russia. 

The current situation is an opportunity to help Marylanders more effectively in both the near term and the long term. We urge you to use the budget surplus to increase the  frequency of transit service, which will provide an option for Marylanders to use transit instead of car trips while gas prices remain high. Another option is to use the surplus to reduce transit fares by 50 percent, as New Zealand has done, in order to provide an even more affordable option for Maryand residents to drive less and use transit more. 

After the next month, gas prices could continue to go up. A temporary repeal of the gas tax sets a dangerous precedent that could negatively impact transit funding and subsidize driving any time gas prices are high. We strongly encourage you to supplement Governor Hogan’s proposal and support amendments to HB1486 and SB1010 so as to not repeal the gas tax and instead pursue more equitable, climate-forward policies that will make the legislation more effective in both the near and long-term. 


The Transform Maryland Transportation Coalition 

The Mission of the Transform Maryland Transportation Coalition is to create a robust, transformational, equitable, and sustainable transportation system that helps us meet our climate targets and serves all Marylanders.