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Ferguson And Jones Downplay Possibility Of Special Session For Gas Tax, Blame Oil Companies

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- In a joint statement Wednesday, Maryland's legislative leaders downplayed the possibility of a special session to repeal or delay a pending increase in the state's gas tax, saying such a move would only starve a fund for roads and bridges and only further enrich oil companies.

"The suggested elimination of the six-cent per gallon inflation adjustment on wholesale gas purchases would not result in Marylanders seeing a price reduction at the pump but would be a loss of over $200 million in funding dedicated to ensuring the safety of our State's roads and bridges," Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County).

The lawmakers also suggested "temporary tax holidays have long-term consequences," with costs for transportation infrastructure construction and maintenance rising along with gas prices.

Funds collected from the gas tax go to trust funds for transportation and the environment.

"Ensuring the safety and integrity of Maryland's roadways, bridges, and transit systems is critical," Ferguson and Jones said. "We cannot have a reliable transportation network that regularly experiences failing conditions due to insufficient funding and deferred maintenance."

Following a prod from Gov. Larry Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot on Tuesday called for a special session to halt the 18% hike, which is tied to inflation and mandated by state law. On July 1, the state's tax on gasoline is set to increase to 43 cents from 36 cents, the comptroller said, calling it a "$200 million tax on Maryland families and small businesses."

He urged Hogan, Ferguson an Jones to convene a special session before next Wednesday and pass emergency legislation granting him the ability to waive the impending tax increase.

Hogan had asked Franchot to "halt or minimize" the hike, but the comptroller said he does not have the power to do so.

"If I had the authority, I'd do it in a quick minute," he said.

The Office of Attorney General Brian Frosh confirmed to WJZ on Monday, "Franchot does not have authority."

With increased revenue projects for this year and 2023, Ferguson and Jones signed on to a 30-day gas tax holiday in March "to provide immediate relief to families." The state used a portion of its $7 billion surplus to cover the losses to the funds for transportation and the environment.

In their statement Wednesday, they placed the blame on oil companies while also committing to work on easing the burden of increasing prices.

"The problem is not the marginal impact of $0.06 inflation adjustment to the wholesale gas tax," they said. "The problem is big oil companies exploiting global uncertainty to drive the price of gas to more than $4 a gallon."

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