The legislature, stymied for years in its efforts to hike the state's gasoline tax, found this year's political climate just right for burying its rural vs. urban schism and going home to "the people" looking responsible. The governor threw his weight behind the gasoline tax and continued to lobby intensely--doling out roads and bridges for votes--even after his original gasoline tax plan became lost in a Byzantine compromise.

What passed was a two-step gasoline tax hike: 2 cents this year, 2.5 cents next year and an automatic penny increase each year beginning in 1983, as long as the wholesale price per gallon stays above $1.30. To ease the pain to consumers, the lawmakers included the requisite restrictions, like earmarking the money for road and bridge construction and reconstruction for the first two years. That broad language allows Eastern Shore lawmakers to use the money to patch potholes, while in wealthy Montgomery the added tax revenues can build interchanges and access roads needed to attract new businesses.

The underrepresented consumers won one and lost one in Annapolis. They won an increased property tax break if they are elderly or have low incomes, since the legislators hiked the "circuit breaker" tax relief an average $15 this year. But those same poor and elderly people lost out when a bill clearing the way for lower utility rates was roundly defeated in the House.