On May 16, State Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, released a statement calling for a suspension of the 49.4 cent state gas tax, calling it the “one sure way to lower the cost of gasoline.”
The senator said a gas tax suspension makes sense given the continued increase in gas prices and improvement in the state’s revenue situation.
“In a matter of hours, the Legislature could meet and pass legislation to knock almost 50 cents off the price of a gallon. In the central Puget Sound area, gas has gone up 31 cents per gallon on average in the month since Republicans last called for legislative intervention. How much higher does it have to go before our Democratic colleagues decide their constituents should get some relief?” asked Braun, who noted a recent report on state revenue collection indicated a $428 million increase from a February revenue forecast.
“Clearly,” Braun said, “the gas tax could be suspended through the end of the year … without jeopardizing a single state program or service.”
Braun also criticized Democrats in the Legislature and in the federal government for failure to act on rising gas prices.
“The federal government has been ineffective at slowing the rise in fuel costs. Democrats at all levels can blame Putin all they want, but that’s not the underlying cause of the price increases, and in any case the Ukraine situation isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon. Our Legislature represents the only real hope for the people of Washington to pay significantly less at the pump,” Braun stated. “If our Democratic colleagues here in Washington are OK with the soaring gas prices because they see it as a way to get people out of their cars, I wish they’d come out and say so. If not, they should join with us to call a special session and suspend the gas tax with a strong bipartisan vote that could deter a veto.”
According to AAA, as of May 18, Washington’s average gas price per gallon was $5.148, or about 58 cents above the national average of $4.567.
Alongside Braun, his 20th legislative district counterparts in the House of Representatives spoke out about their support of a gas tax reprieve.
“With such a rapid rise in fuel prices, the quickest and easiest way to provide relief is to suspend the gas tax and use surplus general fund revenues to keep transportation projects/operations funded,” Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama said. “It is something we can and should do now in a short special session.”
Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, said Washington’s gas price increase over the past four years has outpaced the national average rise. He said Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Democratic Party’s mismanagement of state budgets including transportation compounded the effects of an unwillingness to offer tax relief, disproportionately hiring rural communities as well as low and fixed-income households.
“Washingtonians are feeling it at the pump, at the grocery store, and it creates barriers to education, employment, and a better quality of life. Relief is long overdue,” Abbarno said.
Abbarno also posted a statement on his Facebook page on May 17, in which he decried the impact of rising gas prices, specifically referencing the increased costs for students who have to commute for their education.
“Washington state has the third highest gas tax in the country and over the past four years, the increased cost of fuel in Washington has doubled the national average increase. Too many taxes. Too many regulations. Not enough accountability,” Abbarno stated.
Inslee not in favor of pausing tax
Days after Braun’s call, Inslee said he doesn’t plan to cut the gas tax during a media availability on May 18.
Inslee said any decrease from state taxes on fuel would be nullified by an increase in prices from oil companies.
“Instead of going to the coffers working to build roads, it would just go to the oil companies and their profits,” he said.
The governor said policy like the Working Families Tax Credit is a better route for relief. Starting in 2023, low-to-middle income individuals will be eligible for up to $1,200 annually if they meet certain requirements, according to the Washington State Department of Revenue.
Inslee said halting the gas tax would also require the postponement of road projects, some of which are already bonded against revenues from the tax.
“It’s a solution to help the oil companies and delay our … transportation infrastructure,” Inslee said. “I don’t think that’s the right thing for the state of Washington.”
Reporter Rick Bannan of The Reflector contributed to this article.
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