Md. Republican lawmakers fail in attempt to extend gas tax holiday

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A Republican lawmaker tried and failed to extend Maryland’s gasoline tax holiday by amendment on Thursday, and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) faced pushback from Republican lawmakers who felt debate was unfairly curtailed.

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

“Many are still struggling,” Thiam said. “Though we know this is a short-term relief, it’s a necessary relief.”

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

Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D), Maryland’s chief tax collector and a candidate for governor, had called for a three-month pause on the state’s gas tax and recently wrote a Maryland Matters op-ed calling for the extended gas tax holiday.

“Comptroller Franchot strongly believes we need a 60-day extension to the gas tax holiday,” Susan O’Brien, spokeswoman for Franchot said. “There is time before Sine Die to get this extension in place — whether it is by a bill or by giving the Governor the power to extend it.

“It’s great that we were the first state to pass a gas tax holiday, but it’s not great that we’ll be the first state to end it,” she continued.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) recently proposed suspending that state’s gas tax for three months and slowly phasing it in again in August and September. But Youngkin’s proposal came after Virgina’s legislature adjourned their special session.

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

“Marylanders are hurting at the pump but they also need us to make improvements in the roads and highways and bridges that they use every single day,” Luedtke said

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

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

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

Appropriations Committee Chair Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) said although the budget includes a $200 million reserve, McIntosh said the Department of Legislative Services has noted that the state is “very close to eating up that reserve.”

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

Del. Jefferson Ghrist (R-Upper Shore) insisted that the state could afford to extend the gas tax holiday by backfilling the Transportation Trust Fund next year with money from the federal government.

Jones cut him off to ask if he was explaining his vote on Thiam’s amendment. Ghrist said he was but wished he could have spoken before Jones called for a vote.

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

“We’re not explaining votes now, Madam Speaker?” one lawmaker protested.

Del. Neil Parrott (R-Washington) stood and said it was not right or fair for Jones to ignore lawmakers who were standing to explain their votes.

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

“I understand, but it’s my call,” Jones said, raising her hands in the air.

Jones moved to record the vote on the bill, which passed in a 106-29 vote.

Parrott again stood on a “point of order” to ask parliamentarian Del. Jheanelle K. Wilkins (D-Montgomery) if that was appropriate according to the rules.

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

Parrot said that he does not want the same thing to happen again.

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

The House Speaker “controls the floor and gets to make the calls,” Wilkins said. “I think Madam Speaker is trying to move us along efficiently.”

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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