Gas tax, tolls go up Monday

'Double whammy' will raise costs but fund stalled projects

  • Starting Monday, people driving in Maryland will feel an extra pinch at the gas pump, as will residents throughout the state of Maryland as the Maryland General Assembly approved a phased-in tax earlier this year, with the first phase adding about 4 cents per gallon starting July 1.
Starting Monday, people driving in Maryland will feel an extra… (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF…)
June 29, 2013|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

Come Monday, driving around Maryland will cost more — both at the gas pump and the toll plaza.

Marylanders will see a 3.5 cent rise in the state's gas tax — the first such increase in two decades — as well as toll rates that jump as much as 50 percent.

The changes that take effect July 1 concern some residents. Trucking company president Tom Huseman is measuring the impact of both increases in thousands of dollars. Joseph L. DiBlasio of Essex is adjusting his commute to avoid the higher toll at the Fort McHenry Tunnel.

And Andrew Langer, who commutes from the Eastern Shore to Washington, says the twin increases amount to piling on.

"There are ways to save money and do projects that don't require the double whammy of a tax hike and a toll hike on the same weekend," said Langer, a Centreville resident who was sitting in a Bay Bridge backup as he spoke. He estimated that the increases would cost his family $450 a year.

"A dollar the state is forcing me to spend on them is a dollar I'm not spending on something of my own choosing," he said.

Area residents are seeing other taxes and fees rise as well. For example, customers will have to pay a tax of 5 cents, up from 2 cents, on most bottled beverages sold in Baltimore beginning Monday. Milk, juices and two-liter soft drinks are exempt. Local officials say the increase will generate about $10 million a year to build new school facilities, but critics fear that city businesses will suffer as customers choose to buy beverages outside Baltimore.

Meanwhile, some localities have established new stormwater fees, but not all will take effect immediately. The General Assembly required 10 local governments, including Baltimore's, to set the fees by July 1 to combat runoff that pollutes the Chesapeake Bay.

Between September and October, Baltimore homeowners will be billed from $40 to $120 annually. Baltimore County mailed out bills this week; residents will pay $39 a year for a single-family home, $21 for a townhouse and $32 for a condo.

The gas tax and toll increases will have a much broader impact across the state.

The increase in Maryland's gas tax, which had been frozen at 23.5 cents a gallon since 1992, was part of a transportation revenue bill proposed by Gov. Martin O'Malley and passed by the General Assembly this year. Further scheduled increases could drive the tax up to more than 42 cents a gallon by 2016, raising money to jump-start the state's stalled transportation efforts.

This year's toll increases were set in motion in 2011, when the Maryland Transportation Authority voted to raise tolls in two phases — one that took effect that year and another delayed until this summer. Technically, the toll and the gas tax increases are separate matters. With a few exceptions, toll revenue is used to build and maintain toll facilities, while gas tax revenues pay for the state's other transportation needs.

Among those who will feel the most impact from the increases will be Maryland's truckers.

Huseman, president of Terminal Transportation Services in Baltimore, said his company will be affected more by the rise in tolls than the gas tax increase. He expects the company, which operates 65 trucks servicing the port of Baltimore, to see its annual toll costs — about $50,000 five years ago — rise to $180,000.

"It just puts [Maryland] in a very, very uncompetitive position with our neighboring states," he said. "My first reaction is accountability: What happened to the money?"

Huseman said he understands the need for increased transportation revenue but wishes the state had increased the general sales tax, rather than just fuel taxes, to "spread the pain" of paying for projects.

Reactions to the increases often focus on the governor.

As he pumped gas at an Exxon station in Anne Arundel County, MearnsFuller of Severna Park blamed O'Malley, whom he described as "a tax-and-spend kind of guy." Fuller said he doesn't mind the rise in tolls so much but doubts the gas tax increase was needed.

"Look at what the private sector is told to do: Do more with less," he said. State officials "could be doing more with what they have."

But at the next pump, Leslie Starr of Baltimore, an O'Malley fan with an Obama sticker on her hybrid car, said she's "proud to pay taxes for civilization." She said she's not wealthy but can afford to absorb the increases to help upgrade the state's infrastructure.

"You've got to do it. What's the point of saving money and having bridges collapsing?" she said.

The initial impact of the gas tax increase will be relatively modest for drivers of private vehicles. AAA estimates that the average Maryland motorist uses 47.6 gallons of gas a month, which translates to an added $1.66 in taxes monthly, or just under $20 a year.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.