- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2000

ANNAPOLIS Gov. Parris N. Glendening and leading state legislators, sitting on a budget surplus of $1 billion, say they aren't going to give Marylanders relief from rising fuel prices by cutting the state's gasoline tax, one of the highest in the nation.
Slashing the gas tax of 23.5 cents per gallon is not an option, Glendening spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said, because the needs of Maryland's transportation system are growing faster than revenues can pay for improvements.
But Mr. Glendening has talked to President Clinton, a fellow Democrat, about asking the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to increase exports, Miss Guillory said. And the state has doubled the fund that helps low-income residents pay for heating fuel, for which prices also have climbed.
Mr. Glendening has called for spending most of the budget surplus a result of higher revenues generated by a surging economy on education and transportation programs.
One influential local legislator in the Maryland General Assembly said she was concerned by how much she paid and what she observed during a visit to a gas station last weekend.
"I noticed people saying, 'Give me $12 worth,' not 'Fill it up,' " said state Sen. Gloria Lawlah, a Prince George's County Democrat who is chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee's subcommittee on public safety, transportation and environment. "If I'm complaining, what about the single mother emerging from welfare to work? She's got a little secondhand car and maybe a $1.19 [per-gallon budget] for gas."
So far, Republican lawmakers have not made a gas-tax cut a hard issue for the governor and their colleagues in the Democratic-controlled legislature to ignore.
The Clinton administration's effort to convince OPEC to rein in oil prices will be the subject of a congressional hearing today.
Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican, is drafting legislation imposing sanctions on oil exporters whose tight rein on production forced oil prices to $30 a barrel, a level not seen since 1991.
The Gilman bill would penalize these countries by withdrawing U.S. military aid to the few countries that get it, a congressional source said. The sanctions could target OPEC members Indonesia, Nigeria and Venezuela, as well as non-OPEC producers such as Mexico and Angola.
These countries get "tens of millions of dollars" in U.S. aid, Mr. Gilman said.
Economic problems in Asia helped depress both demand for gasoline and prices last year, leading OPEC to cut exports and the United States to draw down its reserves.
Her fellow lawmakers are going to have to "have some meaningful dialogue" soon about transportation funding, including the gas tax, Mrs. Lawlah said. But, she said, they've been able to put off the discussion because the economy is doing well.
So far in Maryland, legislators and their staff say, few constituents or interest groups such as agencies or school systems with large fuel needs are lobbying for relief on fuel costs.
But while Maryland motorists are unlikely to find any help in Annapolis, some bargain shoppers have found cheaper gas in the District, where the gas tax is 20 cents, and across the Potomac in Virginia, where the tax is 17.5 cents.
Quentin Montgomery, 71, of Fort Washington, a retired U.S. Senate librarian who works as a deliveryman to earn extra money, makes a point to fill up at the Merit gas station off the Beltway in Alexandria. The price $1.31 a gallon is right, he says, and he pays it before driving back to Prince George's County.
"It's so terrible, unreal," he said of rising gas prices in Maryland. "I was hoping that something can be done about it."
Howard Lee, 69, of Bladensburg, Md., said $19 can fill up his car in Virginia. Closer to home, he can spend $20 and not come close to a full tank.
"I wouldn't fill up here," Mr. Lee said while pumping gas at a Cheverly Exxon, where he paid $1.48 a gallon. "But I don't like running out of gas."
District of Columbia resident Jabari Taylor, 23, yesterday pulled his sport utility vehicle into an Exxon across the street from the Alexandria, Va., Merit. He paid 7 cents more per gallon, but didn't have to wait in the line at the Merit station.
"I put up with it," he said. "Time is a factor."
Said his brother Shango, 21: "It's more convenient just to pay the full price."


Carter Dougherty contributed to this report in Washington.

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