An inspector at a Montgomery County gas station pours gas into the glasses for testing.
Kevin Burley is a part-time gas station attendant. He first pumps each octane brand of gas into a large can, and then into three separate stainless steel containers.
He then takes those containers over to his truck, where he pours a bit from each one into three different glasses, and then attaches them to a tester. Just seconds later, a printout tells him whether each sample contains the level of octane the gas station advertises.
All three at his station do, so Burley can place the certification sticker on the pumps from the comptroller's office. The importance of these inspections is only growing, because by the time the next summer holiday arrives — the Fourth of July — Maryland drivers will be paying more at the pump thanks to tax increases set to begin in July.
The Maryland General Assembly approved applying the state's sales tax to gasoline, as well as tying the rate of the per-gallon tax to the consumer price index, meaning it could go up or down annually depending on inflation. The increases are rolled out over four years, so when the initial hike goes into effect on July 1, drivers will be paying about 5 cents more per gallon.
Comptroller Peter Franchot isn't a fan of the tax hikes. "Wealthy people in Maryland pay less than 2 percent of their after-tax income on gas. People at the lower end of the income level pay more than 12 percent of their after-tax income on gasoline."
But Franchot isn't a legislator, so he had no say on the tax hikes. His office is responsible for collecting the money, and making these inspections, which will produce an increase in paperwork for gas stations and his office. But Franchot says his employees aren't the victims here.
"The problem is not us, and the burden on us as an agency," he says. "It's the burden on low-income people around the state. It's the exception in Maryland that you don't get what you pay for."
Less than 1 percent of pumps in Maryland fail the octane inspections according to the Franchot, who adds fault is almost always with distributors and not the stations themselves.