ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan proclaimed the state as the first in the nation to officially suspend the state’s gas tax amid the coronavirus pandemic and a global war.
Joining Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones, the governor signed a law that will give motorists a 30-day break from paying about 36 cents per gallon at the pump.
Lawmakers from the House of Delegates and Senate granted final approval Friday, March 18, which took about a week to accomplish after scheduling public hearings. The gas tax will remain in effect through April 16.
“I want to sincerely thank the legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle for coming together to swiftly and unanimously pass this emergency legislation,” Hogan said inside the governor’s reception room in Annapolis. “It’s almost unheard of for a major piece of legislation to pass in such a short period of time with such universal, bipartisan support.”
After the legislation became law, prices decreased at gas stations throughout the state.
For instance, drivers paid $4.29 per gallon for regular gasoline March 15 at a Sunoco station in Largo. The price for the same type of gas Saturday, March 19: $4.03.
The state tax also applies to diesel fuel which costs about 37 cents per gallon.
The estimated price drivers could save at the pump to fill up a 12-gallon tank will be slightly more than $4.
According to AAA, the state’s average price for regular gas per gallon stood at $4.17 on Friday. It decreased to about $3.96 on Saturday. The national average price per gallon on Saturday was $4.27.
Fuel prices increased for the past several weeks after Russia, a major global exporter of oil, invaded neighboring Ukraine. U.S. officials responded by imposing financial sanctions on Russia that included importing Russian oil.
Maryland could lose nearly $100 million during what state officials labeled the “holiday gas tax” which helps replenish the state’s transportation trust fund to repair roads, bridges and conduct transit projects.
Lawmakers pledged to use some of the $7.5 billion surplus money to help cover the loss in revenue.
For gas retailers, there’s no legal authority for them to participate. However, the state will refund any retailers who paid 36 cents per gallon just before the holiday gas tax went into effect.
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot said “the hammer’s going to come down” on those businesses who don’t act in good faith to drop their gas prices.
Franchot suggested his office could revoke licenses of retailers who don’t participate but he expressed optimism that wouldn’t happen because retailers would show their “patriotism” after he and his staff communicated with hundreds of business owners.
“They’re good people. They want to do the right thing,” he said. “We may get a little bit rough around the edges but nothing that’s going to be interfering in how they’re going to benefit from this.”
Franchot used this example of “capitalism competition.”
“If I see a station that’s got gas for a penny less than the one across the street, I’ll go to that one and most people do,” he said.
Based on the economy, the comptroller’s office noted gas prices can fluctuate, even in a single day. However, it will not include the state’s gas tax.
Several other states either continue to contemplate or have already passed similar legislation to suspend a gas tax.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation Friday to temporarily suspend the state’s gas tax through May 31.
In neighboring Virginia, Gov. Glenn Youngkin wants to suspend the gas tax in the Commonwealth for three months. He estimates the measure would save drivers 26 cents per gallon.
Back in Maryland, Jones said the 30-day tax suspension comes as a response to an extraordinary circumstance from Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
“When we’re in session, it’s easy to get tunnel vision and get caught up in the minutia of Maryland politics but the rising spikes at the gas pump, at the grocery and elsewhere are hard to ignore,” she said. “They quickly remind us that we live in a global economy. We’re all connected.”