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Maryland residents look across Potomac for cheaper gas

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Local,Maryland,Andy Brownfield

McDonnell plan to scrap tax would mean much cheaper fill-ups in Va.

ANNAPOLIS -- Marylanders say they may start crossing the Potomac into Virginia to fill up their tanks if the two states take widely divergent paths with their gasoline taxes.

Democratic Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is looking at two plans to replenish the near-bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund: indexing the 23.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax to inflation, or increasing the sales tax by a penny and dedicating all of that revenue to transportation projects. Both plans were introduced last year, but neither passed the General Assembly.

Republican Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell wants his legislature to approve a plan to eliminate the state's 17.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax and increase the sales tax from 5 percent to 5.8 percent, which wouldn't apply to sales of gasoline.

Neither state has introduced legislation to accomplish those changes. But if Maryland were to increase its gas tax while Virginia eliminates its levy, that could cause huge disparities at the pump.

Gas could be about 35 cents a gallon higher if Maryland passes the gas tax increase proposed last year and Virginia eliminates its tax, costing drivers an extra $7 to fill up a 20-gallon tank. That includes the 14-cent difference between the two states' average cost of a gallon of gas, according to auto club AAA, and assumes Maryland's gas tax is indexed to November's inflation rate of 1.8 percent.

"It would be devastating for gas stations in Montgomery County, D.C. and Southern Maryland," said Kirk McCauley, member relations and government affairs director for the Washington, Maryland, Delaware Service Station and Automotive Repair Association.

He said drivers in the Washington area and within 10 miles of the Maryland-Virginia border would cross into Virginia to buy gas.

And some drivers say they would.

Shawntice Coachman, a 25-year-old nurse's assistant from Oxon Hill, said it's not too far a drive to Virginia to save on gas.

"Gas is already really expensive," she said.

Ravinder Singh drives a taxi in Southern Maryland but lives in Virginia. He said he always fills up his cab in Maryland, but if gas became significantly cheaper in his home state, he'd fill up there before going to work.

Gas is already cheaper in Virginia than Maryland because the commonwealth is bigger, said John Townsend, a spokesman of AAA Mid-Atlantic. It's more expensive in urban areas because the Environmental Protection Agency requires more expensive blends to be used in the summer to reduce pollution. In more rural areas, the price of gas plummets, he said.

Contrast that with Maryland, which has major urban populations in the Washington and Baltimore areas.

An O'Malley spokeswoman said McDonnell's plan has not factored into Maryland's discussion on how to fund transportation projects.

abrownfield@washingtonexaminer.com

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