National gas prices have soared by an average of 43 cents in the past month, portending a wallet-busting summer at the fuel pump, industry officials said.

This winter has seen an unprecedented hike in gasoline prices, which crossed the $3.50 per gallon mark earlier than any other year on record, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

“For some 211 million licensed drivers in the USA, the idiomatic expression ‘pain at the pump’ is not an outmoded cliché. It is a reality for motorists from coast to coast and across the Washington metro area,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of Public and Government Affairs.

The latest “AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report” found that the average national gasoline price is $3.73, up from $3.30 a month ago and placing a $1.3 billion daily toll on the pockets of American motorists. The sticker shock is even worse in the Washington, D.C. area, where gasoline prices jumped 14 cents per gallon, from $3.80 a gallon on Feb. 15 to $3.94 a gallon on Feb. 18.

“Currently, the price of a gallon of self-serve regular blend gasoline in the nation’s capital is only six cents shy of the spine-rattling $4 threshold,” Townsend said. “Compounding matters, it is highly probable the average cost of gasoline will actually darken across that dreadful doorstep in Washington, D. C. proper before this week is out. That is, if the price of gasoline continues to increase at its current incessant clip.”

In Maryland and Virginia, gas prices have soared 35 cents in the past 30 days, according to the AAA report. In the past weekend alone, gasoline prices leapfrogged from $3.62 to $3.74 a gallon in Maryland, and from $3.50 to$3.61 in Virginia.

Since the report was first published, some Maryland and D.C. fuel stations have hiked their rates beyond the dreaded $4 per gallon mark, according to consumer reporting websites.

The record gas prices are a function of a lower supply of crude oil—OPEC has reduced production by nearly 1 million per day—as well as seasonal maintenance work at refineries temporarily reducing gas supplies and an influx of speculative money into gasoline future contracts.

The skyrocketing gas prices may soar even higher for Maryland motorists if a proposed gas tax hike is passed. The General Assembly is considering a transportation funding plan, meant to expand the state’s transportation systems, which would impose a $3 sales tax on gas at the wholesale level.

But according to a study released Feb. 20, the state stands to lose nearly 1,000 jobs and almost $125 million in economic activity if the bill, sponsored by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., is passed.

Commissioned by Americans for Prosperity Maryland, the Hanover-based affiliate of a national group linked to the tea party, and produced by Baltimore-based Sage Policy Group, the study does not assess the economic impact of expanded transportation systems, which it admits “could be significant.” Rather, the report focuses on the effect of lower household spending because of the tax hike.

“What one does know for certain is that Maryland’s households would have less money to spend on items such as groceries, retail items, personal services, home improvements and vacations,” the study found. “Diminished spending capacity in these categories would impact many industries.”


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO