Maryland Republican lawmakers fail in bid to extend gas tax exemption

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A Republican lawmaker unsuccessfully tried to extend Maryland’s gas tax exemption by amendment Thursday, and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) was rebuffed by Republican lawmakers who felt that the debate was unfairly curtailed.

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A Republican lawmaker unsuccessfully tried to extend Maryland’s gas tax exemption by amendment Thursday, and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) was rebuffed by Republican lawmakers who felt that the debate was unfairly curtailed.

Of the. Brenda Thiam (R-Washington) moved the amendment to Senate Bill 215 — which would extend Maryland’s energy storage tax credit — to continue the statewide gasoline tax exemption for 45 days. The current tax relief is set to expire April 16, and the amendment would have extended it through Memorial Day.

“Many are still struggling,” Thiam said. “While we know this is short-term relief, it is needed relief.”

Last month, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) signed a measure that suspends the 36-cent-per-gallon tax that retailers owe the state, to ease what consumers pay at the pump following of a spike in crude oil prices since Russia invaded Ukraine. Although the state does not have the power to set gas prices, consumers saw significantly reduced prices shortly after lawmakers suspended the tax.

Comptroller Peter VR Franchot (D), Maryland’s chief tax collector and gubernatorial candidate, had called for a three-month pause on the state’s gas tax and recently wrote a Maryland Matters editorial calling for an extension of the gas tax exemption.

“Comptroller Franchot strongly believes that we need a 60-day extension of the gas tax exemption,” said Susan O’Brien, spokesperson for Franchot. “It is time before Sine Die to put this extension in place – whether through a bill or by giving the governor the power to extend it.

“It’s great that we were the first state to enact a gas tax exemption, but it’s not great that we’re the first state to end it,” she continued.

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin (right) recently proposed suspending that state’s gasoline tax for three months and phasing it back in August and September. But Youngkin’s proposal came after the Virginia legislature adjourned its special session.

But House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery) said extending the tax holiday would cost an additional $150 million and hurt Maryland’s Transportation Trust Fund, where Gas tax revenues are used to improve roads, highways and bridges.

“Marylanders are hurting at the pumps, but they also need us to improve the roads, highways and bridges they use every day,” Luedtke said.

Lawmakers had braced for the 30-day $100 million gas tax suspension by using part of a record budget surplus to fill the Transportation Trust Fund so transportation projects don’t not be delayed, Luedtke said. But because the General Assembly has already passed the state budget, it cannot fill the fund again and another extension would create a shortfall.

But Republicans argued the state could afford an extension. Minority Leader Jason Buckel (R-Allegany) pointed to the state’s $211 million cash surplus, which comes on top of other savings accounts like the Rainy Day Fund. “We have enough of a cushion,” he said.

Buckel expressed skepticism that economic conditions would change over the next 45 days so that Marylanders can continue to benefit from lower gas prices. “It’s not our fault [that gas prices are high]but we have the opportunity to try and take a bit of a bite out of it,” he said.

The chair of the credit committee, Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), said while the budget includes a $200 million reserve, McIntosh said the Department of Legislative Services noted the state was “very close to eating that reserve.”

At least two other lawmakers rose to speak during the debate, but Jones called for a quick roll-call vote on Thiam’s amendment.

Of the. Jefferson Ghrist (R-Upper Shore) insisted the state could afford to extend the gas tax exemption by filling the Transportation Trust Fund next year with federal money .

Jones interrupted him to ask if he was explaining his vote on Thiam’s amendment. Ghrist said he was, but wished he could speak before Jones called the vote.

Another lawmaker rose to explain his vote, but Jones continued the vote, concluding that the amendment failed by a vote of 47-82.

“We don’t explain the votes now, Madam President?” a legislator protested.

Of the. Neil Parrott (R-Washington) stood up and said it was neither fair nor just for Jones to ignore lawmakers who stood up to explain their votes.

“You saw us, we were both up,” Parrot said of himself and another lawmaker.

“I understand, but it’s my decision,” Jones said, throwing his hands up.

Jones moved to record the vote on the bill, which passed by a vote of 106 to 29.

Parrott again raised a “point of order” to ask Congresswoman Del. Jheanelle K. Wilkins (D-Montgomery) if appropriate under the rules.

“It’s over now, okay, so if you want to be on the floor saying all that, go ahead,” Jones said.

Parrot said he didn’t want the same thing to happen again.

“We’re running against Sine Die – we’re here for more bills and more votes,” Parrott said. “I want to make sure that people who want to explain their vote…have that opportunity.”

The Speaker of the House “controls the floor and can make calls,” Wilkins said. “I think Madam President is trying to move us forward effectively.”

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