WASHINGTON – Rep. Al Wynn, D-Largo, has asked Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to convene an emergency session of the General Assembly to temporarily repeal the 23.5-cent gas tax while supplies are down and prices are rising.
Maryland drivers have watched gas prices flirt with the $4 mark, with the average cost to fill a 15-gallon tank in at $48.90.
“Residents of our district and the entire state of Maryland are being subjected to unbelievably high prices,” Wynn said Tuesday in a press release. “Although gas prices can be expected to decline in the next month or so, we must act with urgency to provide relief.”
Wynn is just one of several Maryland politicians trying to help consumers cope with fuel prices that have increased from an average of $1.85 last year to $3.26 Wednesday — most recently because of Hurricane Katrina.
While the congressman said Ehrlich will consider his request for a gas tax holiday, the governor has said he has no immediate plans to seek a suspension, which could potentially threaten the state’s ability to repay loans for road projects.
Maryland received almost $753 million in gas taxes in the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to Michael Golden, a spokesman for Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer. All but about $13 million went to the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, which is used to repay the road construction bonds.
The cost aside, Ehrlich spokesman Henry P. Fawell said temporarily repealing the gas tax would require Ehrlich to call a special session or declare a state of emergency.
“We have not reached that threshold yet,” he said. “We’re nowhere near that.”
Fawell added that gas supplies have improved dramatically within the last week. He said the Colonial Pipeline, which starts in hurricane-hit Louisiana and supplies Maryland with more than half of its fuel, is at 100 percent capacity — up from 20 percent last week.
The country’s refining capacity has also improved.
It should be operating at 95 percent by mid-September, according to David Garman, undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Energy.
Garman told the Committee on Energy and Commerce yesterday that DOE has entered into separate agreements with several energy companies to loan more than 12 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to limit disruptions in crude supplies for refineries.
“We have taken a number of steps to try to alleviate the situation,” Garman wrote in a prepared speech for the committee. “Our department and our administration take the subject of excessive pricing very seriously.”
Despite Garman’s optimism, Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. ordered an examination Tuesday into whether the state should consider a law passed in Hawaii establishing a maximum, pre-tax price for the sale of gas.
“Fuel prices are rising at rates that are, at the least, concerning and, more accurately, alarming,” Miller wrote in a letter to Sen. Thomas M. Middleton of Charles County. “I know you share my view that Marylanders deserve some level of predictability and consistency in automotive and home fuel prices.”
So does Wynn.
“Providing temporary relief through a gas tax holiday to the consumers will also make Maryland gas prices more competitive in the current market and help reduce the burden on our low-income residents,” Wynn said in a release. “A win-win situation for consumers, small business and local entrepreneurs.” Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., also sent a letter to President Bush on Friday urging him to direct administration officials to immediately investigate unfair practices at the pump. – 30 – CNS-9-7-05