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Commentary Working & the Economy

Franchot: Before Session Ends, Extend Gas Tax Holiday to 90 Days

Gas Tax
Photo by Angela Breck.

By Peter V.R. Franchot

The writer, a Democrat, is the Maryland comptroller and a 2022 candidate for governor. 

As a former state delegate of 20 years, I’ve heard the old quip about the 90-day legislative session: 90% of the work gets done in the last 10 days.

That may be a slight exaggeration, but the statement conveys a general truth: some bills emerge from out of nowhere and move at breakneck speed to win passage, while others get bogged down in parliamentary technicalities that spell its demise.

Essentially, if leadership wants to either get something across the finish line or stuff it in the drawer, it doesn’t matter how many days or even hours remain in the session.

Which leads me to this: Before the gavel drops on the final day of this year’s session, the General Assembly should extend the state gas tax holiday from 30 days to 90 days.

You’ve probably heard me say this before. I called for a 90-day holiday at the outset because I knew that a one-month freeze would have too little impact on Maryland consumers.

We’re more than halfway through the 30-day tax freeze and the feedback from gas station owners and motorists has been overwhelmingly positive. There’s a lot to like.

Motorists win and small businesses win, thanks to a provision my agency worked to include in the law that provides a tax refund on any taxed fuel they already purchased before the holiday took effect.

Want further proof of how popular this is? Go to any station near our state borders and check out the number of license plates from Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Critics may say we can’t afford another two months of no gas tax collections. Not true!

Maryland has a historic $7.5 billion surplus; the price tag of a 30-day gas tax holiday is $100 million. Clearly, it’s a present-day investment that doesn’t have long-term fiscal consequences.

All that chatter about the tax being lifted and gas stations pocketing the profits? Hasn’t happened. The free market worked to spur competition and ensure across-the-board compliance.

We could spend a while countering the meritless critiques that have been bandied about. The simple fact remains that the 30-day holiday provides immediate relief for a reasonable cost at a time when consumers were clamoring for government to intervene and ease the pain at the pump.

This brings me back to my initial call for lawmakers to extend the gas tax holiday to 90 days before they leave town and hit the campaign trail.

Even with a few days remaining in the legislative session, I’m confident this can happen with time to spare.

The original bill moved through the House and Senate at warp speed and an extension can move even faster because all the finer details have already been ironed out.

Uncertainty remains with the volatile global oil market still reacting to the prolonged invasion of Ukraine at the hands of Vladimir Putin.

Motorists would undoubtedly welcome a longer gas tax holiday leading up to summer travel season. And let’s be honest, what politician wouldn’t love to tout their support for this when they’re knocking on doors and speaking to voters.

Most importantly, it’s the right thing to do at the right time, and we can afford it.

As Maryland’s chief financial officer, I know we have the means to provide this kind of immediate relief without burning a hole in our wallet. We still have plenty of money to bolster the state’s Rainy Day Fund and an unprecedented surplus to fund other priorities.

In the waning days of the General Assembly session, legislators should seize this opportunity to provide a break, albeit temporarily, for the taxpayers who pay our salaries.