A new Goucher College poll released Monday shows about one-third of Marylanders describe their current financial situation worse than last year.

Although the state and local jurisdictions ended indoor mask mandates and COVID-19 statistics show fewer confirmed cases and patients in intensive care units, about 47% of respondents say their economic situation remains “about the same.” Only 19% say it’s better.

In terms of recent price increases, about 56% say it’s caused a financial hardship in their household. Within that question, 30% called it a “major” hardship and 26% said it’s “minor.”

“That is a scary thing,” Mileah Kromer, political science professor and director of the Sarah T. Hughes Center for Politics at Goucher College in Towson, said in an interview. “Three years into a pandemic and the price increases are causing a major financial hardship. People should pay attention to what’s going on.”

In terms of racial demographics in the poll, about 63% of Blacks say recent price increases produced a financial hardship in their household. In comparison, the poll shows 51% of whites and 61% of all other races say yes.

Fuel prices began to increase in recent weeks after Russia, a major global exporter of oil, invaded neighboring Ukraine. United States officials responded by imposing financial sanctions on Russia that included importing Russian oil.

Gasoline prices at some gas stations throughout the D.C. region are above $4 per gallon.

Thanks to COVID-19 federal relief funds and state income tax revenue, the Maryland Board of Revenue Estimates announced Thursday, the state’s budget surplus now stands at $7.5 billion.

Gov. Larry Hogan and the two Democratic leaders, Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones, agreed to pause the gas tax for 30 days.

State officials propose to use some of the budget surplus to help pay for the loss in tax revenue. In Maryland, the gas tax cost about 37 cents per gallon that funds roads, bridges and mass transit.

“During the last month, Marylanders have seen gas prices increase exponentially, compounding existing rising costs,” Ferguson and Jones said in a joint statement Thursday. “Increased revenue projections for this year and next year give us the flexibility to provide immediate relief to families.”

Committees in both the House and Senate will hold public hearings Tuesday to review emergency legislation to suspend the state’s gas tax for 30 days.

State Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democratic candidate for governor, released a statement praising the governor and Democratic leadership for “working in a bipartisan fashion.” However, Franchot said 30 days isn’t enough.

“With a $7.5 billion revenue surplus, we’re in a strong financial position to not only be able to provide a three-month gas tax holiday for our residents, but also provide much-needed assistance to Marylanders and businesses who continue to struggle from the economic consequences of COVID,” he said. “That’s why I continue to renew my call for $2,000 emergency survival checks for low-wage earners; $500 million for child care providers; and $500 million for small businesses.”

Other poll results

Marylanders surveyed in this year’s Goucher poll answered several other questions such making marijuana legal for recreational use.

Since the college asked the question in 2015, at least 52% of poll respondents supported marijuana use for adults.

This year’s poll shows 62% support legalizing recreational use, compared to 34% who oppose it.

In terms ages, 84% of those 18 to 34 support recreational marijuana use. The figure decreases to 59% support for adults 35 to 54 and lowers to 49% for those 55 and older.

Marylanders in the poll showed a division on how state officials should spend the current budgetary surplus: 50% prefer to increase funding for public services and 49% favor tax cuts.

In terms of top priorities for the state government to address, respondents ranked the top four in this order: crime and public safety at 25%; education at 17%; economic issues and jobs at 14; and health care at 11%.

“It really jumps out when you ask about priorities at a time when there is clear economic concern, 25% of the folks said that crime and public safety was the most important,” Kromer said.

The poll surveyed of the 635 Maryland adults between March 1 to March 6 and a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.


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