George Michael: What's Gov. O'Malley up to now?

February 17, 2012|By GEORGE MICHAEL

Have you been having gas pains recently? Not to be personal, I was thinking about the pains at the pump when you fill up your vehicle. Gasoline prices are on the rise again. What are we going to do about it?

Most of last year, the governor let it be known he favored a 15-cents-per-gallon increase in the Maryland excise tax spread over three years to refurbish our infrastructure. At least, that’s what he says. The pain of a billion dollar or so shortfall in our budget makes any kind of tax attractive to Gov. O’Malley.

But when he delivered his State of the State Address on Feb. 1, he announced that he favored a 2 percent sales tax levy per gallon each year for three years. This would amount to a total increase of 6 percent after three years — the full sales tax rate. He has me puzzled. Why the change in tactics by Gov. O’Malley about the gas tax?

Actually, what he proposed was to “repeal the current sales tax exemption on a gallon of gasoline, phasing it out by 2 percent a year.”

It sounds much better when he says it that way. He is not raising the tax. He is just removing the exemption for gasoline that applies to most everything else. Don’t you see how unfair it is that we don’t allow everyone to have a chance to pay the sales tax for gas, too?

Was he hopeful we would think that 2 percent is no big deal? He glossed over it so glibly in his speech, you could have missed it. Does he think that six sounds better than 15 as in 6 percent compared to 15 cents? That seems too simplistic. What does he take us for, knaves and fools? Don’t answer that.

At the current wholesale price around $3 (the price before the 42 cents of federal and state excise taxes are added at the pump), the tax would amount to 18 cents a gallon after three years. The governor preferred the idea of 2 percent phased-in over three years. It sounds kinder and gentler, a case for compassionate liberalism — we only increase your taxes in stages.

But think of this. Once in place, the governor (or the next Democratic governor) would not have to ask for a gas tax increase. By using the sales tax approach, increases are already built in, going up automatically as the price of gas increases. Is this the ace the governor has up his sleeve? Connecticut, New York and California have already established the built-in sales tax on gasoline. Typically, Maryland follows those states in fiscal and environmental policy.

Gas prices will continue to rise as long as liberal Democrats are running the show, blocking things like the Keystone Oil Pipeline and following the environmentalists’ agenda favored by our governor. The Perfect Storm: Get the sales tax added to the price of gas, keep the supplies low, and as prices rise and more revenues flow to government coffers, we can all sing “Happy Days are Here Again.”

Of course, a big part of his “infrastructure” is the Purple Line Light Rail he wants to build in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, just inside the Beltway. This means a big portion of the additional taxes we would be paying here in Western Maryland would be going to help people ride the train at subsidized rates in his political backyard. Makes sense to a politician.

The good news is that even loyal Democrats are balking at this tax increase, especially at a time of rising prices. The bad news is the governor will be forced to raise taxes somewhere else or face an even bigger budget shortfall. His presidential ambitions hang in the balance. So does your livelihood.

George Michael, who lives in Williamsport, is a former principal of Grace Academy. His email address is

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