Gas Tax FINAL VOTE and statement from Md. Black Caucus Chair
As Marylanders prepared for Easter Sunday and Passover services, the members of the Maryland General Assembly – elected to represent the best interests of their electorate – were busy making life difficult for the citizens of the ‘Free State‘ during these already difficult economic times.
On Good Friday, the 47-members of the Md. State Senate voted 27-20 to approve a fast-tracked bill already passed by the 141-member House of Delegates, that raises the cost for all Maryland motorists and mass transit riders. The proposed Gas Tax legislation, which was a part of Governor Martin O’Malley’s legislative agenda for the 2013 session, will raise the tax on gasoline in staggered stages over the next four years – with an immediate increase of roughly 4-cents on July 1.
The regressive tax increase – the 36th such tax, fee and/or toll increase of the O’Malley administration according to Change Maryland – would see motorists of Maryland pay an estimated 20-cents a gallon more in taxes by mid-2016 if Congress doesn’t allow for states to institute a tax on internet sales. Once the entirety of the phased-in increases are complete, Maryland motorists will be paying roughly $600 million more in gas taxes alone, per year. And on top of that, fares for the state’s bus, light-rail and subway services will rise 10-cents on July 1, 2014 from $1.60 – $1.70 for a one-way fare.
“Instead of developing a coherent transportation policy, our top elected officials took the easy way out by adding more of a tax burden to a state that has faced so many in recent years,” says Larry Hogan, Chairman of Change Maryland. “This speaks volumes about just how unpopular more taxes are, and this may push Maryland to the tipping point. Taxpayers have finally had enough.”
However, Maryland Democratic officials have consistently pointed to the need of such a drastic tax increase based on the depletion of the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, which they say has dwindled so low that all that would be left without the tax increase would be enough for only routine repair and maintenance projects. However, many independent analysts and non-partisan fiscal agents believe that it is the legislature’s fault for such bankruptcy, as governor’s such as O’Malley have used the Fund to pay for other services and pet projects unrelated to transportation; and that it shouldn’t be left as a burden on the voter to come out of their pocket to pay for something that was unwisely spent by irresponsible elected officials.
“We had a sustainable Fund when Governor Ehrlich left office in 2006, and because this Governor wanted to perform a dog-and-pony show by keeping higher tuition rates flat by raiding the trust fund, essentially robbing Peter to Paul; the hard-working, tax-paying citizens of this great state should not have to suffer because of their mismanagement,” says independent political analyst, Shaun Louis. “And the sad part is, that almost ever single Baltimore City representative and black caucus member voted for this tax, without ever guaranteeing adequate funding for Maryland’s HBCUs – which was suppose to be their #1 priority this session? Shameful!”
And looking at the third-reader vote on the legislation in both chambers, only one Baltimore City legislator voted against the tax increase, 40th district delegate Frank Conaway Jr. – whose father Frank Conaway Sr, the clerk of the courts for Baltimore, railed against the regressive tax in his own press release sent out to the legislature and the media last month. Conaway Jr, who hasn’t voted for any of the tax increases offered up by the O’Malley administration or his democratic colleagues in the seven years he’s been there, says that “he doesn’t believe that his constituents sent him down to Annapolis to continuously raise their taxes and make life harder for them at home”!
Which seemed to be the exact argument of the Chair of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, Delegate Aisha Braveboy, who was one of only a handful of blacks to vote against the tax. “I refuse to vote for another tax increase until we first provide relief for the citizens of this great state by raising the minimum wage and providing for an adequate living wage for those that this regressive tax will hurt the most,” says Braveboy, who has been fighting diligently for equal funding at the four HBCUs in Maryland – without so much as an inkling of assistance from Governor O’Malley.
“It’s my constituents who will be hit the hardest by these type of taxes, and I refuse to place another undue burden on them while they are still looking for ways to climb out of this recession and put food on the table, obtain sustainable wages, get health benefits and child care at an affordable cost and provide for their families.”
Braveboy was one of only five black delegates and one black state senator that voted against the measure (Delegates Braveboy, Burns, Cane, Conaway and Nathan-Pulliam, along with Senator Delores Kelley). Not one member of the state’s GOP voted for the tax increase, which includes 43-delegates and 12-senators. And while the tax increase would disproportionately hurt the poor, which was a major point of Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin’s floor speech, it will have an even greater affect on citizens when they realize that their energy bills have just been increased based on O’Malley’s wind-energy tax that passed this session, along with an increase in vehicle registration fees.
However, the legislature has an extraordinary opportunity to remedy the raiding of transportation funds in the future, if the ‘lockbox’ bill is passed by both chambers and approved by the voters next fall. This legislation would require that any money raised for transportation through fees and/or taxes, be used only for that department. The bill is similar to the one offered by this Examiner through GCOMM Media Co. and supported by the GOP for years, which would make any new tax increase specified as to which department the revenue of the tax would go to, enforceable through a 3/5 super-majority vote of the legislature instead of the simple majority needed now – and then passed by the voters of this great state.
And while the ‘lockbox’ legislation currently before the Maryland General Assembly doesn’t go far enough, and is only related to transportation, it’s a start; and the members of the House of Delegates should pass the Senate-approved version immediately – sending it to the voters for approval in 2014. However, even when and if this legislation is passed, it remains a travesty that Maryland remains light-years behind states like Virginia in common sense approaches to issues like transportation, energy and minimal tax and fee increases?
I just thank God that the election for state officials is right around the corner (June/November 2014) and hope that the electorate remains vigilant in seeing to it that any irresponsible legislator voting for the special interests of others over that of the interests of the People, should be FIRED!
GO HERE to see the FINAL VOTE on the Gas Tax: House Vote/Senate Vote
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