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Momentum is growing for a gas tax holiday in New York state

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Madison Ruffo
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WRVO News file photo

It’s becoming more likely that New York could see a suspension of some gasoline taxes in the new state budget to help ease steeply rising gas prices linked to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The state Senate included a temporary halt to some of the gas taxes in its budget plan, which was released this week. The plan would suspend portions of the state’s motor fuel and sales tax on gasoline, beginning on May 1 and lasting through the end of the year. Together, they total 16 cents per gallon. The savings would be required to be passed on to consumers.

Sen. James Skoufis, speaking during debate on the Senate floor, called the gas tax break a “kitchen table” issue.

“If you’re one of the millions of New Yorkers who is paying through the nose at the pump, this budget provides relief through a gas tax holiday,” Skoufis said.

The state Assembly’s budget plan does not include the gas tax suspension, but Speaker Carl Heastie said he’s happy to talk about the proposal. He questioned, though, whether it would make a significant difference if prices continue to spiral up.

“I’m open to that discussion,” Heastie said. “But this thing is just so uncertain, in terms of the war in Ukraine, what’s going to happen.”

In addition to the motor fuel and state sales tax, New York also imposes a petroleum business tax on gasoline suppliers, which often pass it on to consumers. That tax, which is about 17 cents per gallon, would not be affected in the proposal.

Local governments also impose gas taxes, which average about 14 cents per gallon, according to the state Division of the Budget. While the state taxes are each capped at 8 cents per gallon, local sales taxes on gasoline are based on a percentage of the price, so they increase as gas prices go up.

The Senate plan would allow local governments to suspend their gas taxes if they choose to.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said she is also interested in looking at suspending the gas tax. But she said that would have consequences for road and bridge upkeep and public transit systems.

“We understand that this is one area that we should be looking at, and we are looking at it,” Hochul said. “But … the people who are calling for the end of the gas tax are also asking for more money for infrastructure.”

Altogether, the gas taxes bring in nearly $2.8 billion a year and finance nearly half of the state’s Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund, which pays for hundreds of construction and repair projects each year.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority gets a quarter of its operating budget from the gas taxes, while other cities’ public transit systems are less dependent on the taxes and receive an average of 5% of the revenue.

The Senate proposal would take $650 million from a reserve fund set aside by Hochul to help pay for the projects.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.