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Md. comptroller: State gas tax a 'punch in the gut'

Tuesday - 2/7/2012, 3:30pm  ET

pumping gas (AP)
A gas tax ''is well intentioned, but counter-productive,'' says Franchot. (AP)

Adam Tuss, wtop.com

ANNAPOLIS, MD -- Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal to raise the state gas tax is a "punch in the gut" to the middle class of Maryland, the state's chief finance officer said Tuesday.

During a roundtable meeting in Annapolis, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot took a hard line against the plan, which the governor first unveiled on WTOP. O'Malley's proposal would phase in a 6 percent sales tax in addition to the gas tax over three years.

With gas prices at their current level, that could mean about a 20-cent increase for drivers.

The money would be used to address a transportation backlog in the state, but Franchot says the timing on the proposal is terrible.

"The private sector talks about people driving long distances, even when it doesn't make sense from an economic standpoint, to buy cheaper gas," he says. "We're opening up a gap like the grand canyon between us, Pennsylvania, Delaware and the District of Columbia.

"Also, a lot of my people on the Washington, D.C. border will head south," says Franchot.

If the proposal comes to light, industry experts believe gas prices in most of Virginia would be 26 cents cheaper than Maryland.

"The idea is well intentioned, but counter-productive," says Franchot.

When asked about how his tough talk on the issue could distance himself from O'Malley, Franchot says it is his obligation to come out and make his concerns about the proposal known.

His relationship with the Governor as "cordial," Franchot says, adding he has other black-and-blue marks from taking tough stands on issues.

Maryland's current 23-cent flat tax on gas has not changed since the early 1990s when gasoline was about $1.08, O'Malley told WTOP recently. He says regional arteries wouldn't be so clogged if the state had more to invest in transportation infrastructure.

"The best option...is to get away from the flat, per-gallon tax and instead move to a percentage," O'Malley said. The outdated scheme "is why we have one of the most congested metropolitan areas in the country."

Other Maryland business leaders at the roundtable said the state's transportation trust fund had been raided in the past for other purposes, and weren't sold that the same thing wouldn't happen if this tax went into effect.

Follow Adam Tuss and WTOP on Twitter. (Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)