- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2006

BALTIMORE — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday said he was considering slashing the state gasoline tax to counter the jump in prices at the pump.

“All options are on the table,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “We are looking at repercussions should we decide to do anything concerning the gas tax.”

Mr. Ehrlich said cutting Maryland’s 23.5 cent per gallon gas tax was his only option for lowering gasoline prices, but it is also a “limited option” since the state’s highway programs rely almost exclusively on gas-tax revenue. Eliminating the tax would throw road projects into “disarray,” he said.

The governor did not say how far he might lower the gas tax, which is higher than Virginia’s 17.5 cents per gallon rate and the District’s 20 cents per gallon tax.

Mr. Ehrlich also stopped short of advocating a reduction in the federal gas tax, which is 18.4 cents per gallon.

The average price of regular gasoline yesterday barely topped $3 per gallon in Maryland and $3.08 in the District, which are among the highest prices in the country, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report, a survey of more than 60,000 self-service stations nationwide.

In Virginia, the average gasoline price was just fractions of a cent higher than the national average of $2.92, according to AAA.

“When you have this sort of dramatic increase overnight you impact an economy,” said Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican seeking re-election.

“We continue to look at anything and everything we can do to provide relief to the average person.”

Mr. Ehrlich’s remarks came at a press conference on the campus of the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, where he touted two clean-air initiatives.

He announced the Urban Canopy Initiative, which will provide $300,000 in grants to plant trees in cities, and the introduction of 10’ electric-diesel hybrid buses to the Maryland Transit Administration fleet.

However, it’s record high gasoline prices and skyrocketing electricity rates that occupy the minds of Marylanders and will likely figure prominently in this year’s elections.

Mr. Ehrlich said he had pledged assistance to the Maryland attorney general to combat gasoline price gouging, and defended his deal with Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. to gradually phase in a 72 percent increase in residential electricity bills.

A hearing on the electricity rate-relief plan is scheduled for today before the utility-regulating Public Service Commission.

The governor also said he has taken steps to prevent more gasoline shortages, which coincided with the spike in prices this week on the East Coast, but were triggered by the fuel industry’s switch to cleaner-burning ethanol mixtures.

His moves to ensure uninterrupted supply of gasoline included requests to the Federal Highway Administration to suspend limits on hours of operation for tanker-truck drivers. The waiver was granted last week, and the governor said he expected it to be extended for at least another week.

He also requested the Environmental Protection Agency to waive requirements for ethanol reformulation.

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