Business Groups Tout Poll Showing Opposition to Gas Tax Hikes to Fight Climate Change

    Two organizations that represent small businesses in Maryland are warning about proposals that they argue could increase gasoline and energy bills.

    The Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Distributors Association and the National Federation of Independent Business are armed with new poll numbers that show the public is skeptical of these proposals.

    The groups and their poll take aim at potential proposals to fight climate change that may emerge from legislation in Annapolis and from a regional consortium on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.

    Maryland is a participant in the Transportation & Climate Initiative of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States, a consortium of a dozen states and the District of Columbia that are looking for regional solutions to fight climate change. The group is considering promoting new government spending on projects such as bike lanes and electric vehicles.

    But the business groups are warning that one possible proposal to emerge from the initiative could lead to increases in the gasoline tax.

    The poll, conducted by Annapolis-based Gonzales Research and Media Services, found widespread opposition to higher gas taxes in Maryland. Seventy-three percent of Marylanders said they oppose increasing the state gas tax to fight climate change, while 78% said they oppose the idea of Maryland being part of a regional group that would have the authority to restrict the sale of gasoline.

    The poll of 838 likely voters, conducted Dec. 23-Jan. 4, had a 3.5-point margin of error.

    Opposition to higher gas taxes and an autonomous regional agency that fights climate change was fairly consistent throughout the state. Opposition to higher taxes ranged from 63% in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area to 86% in Western Maryland.

    Mike O’Halloran, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business in Maryland, said he is concerned that any gas tax money raised by the Transportation Climate Initiative would not be spent on improving roads and bridges, as gas tax revenue that goes into the state’s Transportation Trust Fund does.

    “Rather, that money will be sent to a newly created multi-government run entity and spent on a host of Green New Deal type projects earmarked to encourage ‘affordable, low-carbon transportation options,'” O’Halloran said.

    In addition to whatever may emerge from the regional organization, Maryland lawmakers have introduced legislation that would impose carbon collection fees on fossil fuels companies and other polluters. The sponsors of the bill, Sen. Benjamin L. Kramer (D-Montgomery) and Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo (D-Montgomery) have obtained a letter from the state Attorney General’s office that said lawmakers would be within their rights to prevent fossil fuels companies from passing any pollution fees along to consumers.

    That advisory opinion drew scorn from Ellen Valentino, executive vice president of the Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Distributors Association.

    “The concept that government-imposed taxes will not increase costs and not be felt by consumers defies all logic,” she said. “Under these carbon tax proposals, every Marylander who turns on a light, fires up a gas grill, heats or cools their home or workplace, and drives a car can expect a new tax and to pay more.”

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    Josh Kurtz
    Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.