Op-ed column: To help achieve lower gas prices, make your voice heard

In the late 1970s, we saw our economy mired in recession, gas prices at record highs, OPEC nations l

In the late 1970s, we saw our economy mired in recession, gas prices at record highs, OPEC nations largely dictating fuel costs and politicians talking about energy independence.

In May of 2008, we have an economy mired in recession, gas prices at record highs, OPEC nations largely dictating fuel costs and politicians still talking about energy independence.

As the saying goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” The eerie resemblance today’s run-up in gas prices has with what occurred nearly 30 years ago has proven that maxim. Oil was recently trading at $135 per barrel, with some energy commodity analysts predicting it could go even higher. If it does, $5 for a gallon of gas could be much closer than people think, or want.

Families hurting

Anyway you slice it, families are hurting. This is especially true here in New York state where, in addition to paying some of the highest gas prices — and gas taxes — in the Northeast, we also pay some of the highest property taxes and Thruway tolls. Taken together, these burdens add up to a crushing squeeze on middle-class families. For the purposes of this column, I would like to address the gas price-gas tax connection that is contributing to the squeeze so many families are feeling.

New York state imposes three separate taxes on a gallon of gasoline and diesel fuel. Those taxes are an eight-cent motor fuel tax, an eight-cent sales tax and a 16-cent Petroleum Business Tax. These taxes, along with local and federal taxes, contribute to the price of gasoline and diesel fuel. When compared to our neighbors, New York has the highest gas taxes — and gas prices – with the exception of Connecticut. All the other surrounding states — New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Vermont have lower gas taxes and — surprise, surprise — lower gas prices than we do.

Why is it that states surrounding us in the Northeast — who have lower sales taxes than New York — can continue to sell the gas for less, but critics of the summertime gas tax holiday would make us believe if we reduce our taxes, we still won’t save a cent? Have petroleum companies picked only New York state to gouge? Or, could our high gas taxes and prices be just one more symptom of New York’s internal tax-and-spend policies?

Clearly, there is a direct connection between the gas taxes New York state imposes and the gas prices motorists pay. We are not talking about sightings of Elvis or Bigfoot. The phenomenon I speak of — the link between high gas taxes and high gas prices — is very real.

Of course, identifying the problem is only half the battle. The other part, the hard part, is figuring out how to solve it. That is exactly what our Assembly Republican Conference has done in introducing a two-pronged plan to deliver short-term and long-term relief from excessive fuel prices.

Tax holiday needed

First, the short-term: our conference wants to provide motorists with a “summertime holiday” from gas taxes. The legislation we introduced — Assembly Bill A.10818 — would suspend the three state taxes on a gallon of gasoline and diesel fuel from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Our bill would, on average, save motorists roughly 33 cents per gallon of gasoline and 31 cents per gallon of diesel fuel. Think about the amount of driving you and your family will do between now and September and you’ll see how quickly the savings add up.

Addressing fuel-price spikes also requires a holistic, long-term approach. Once again, our conference took the lead by introducing Assembly Bill A.5798, legislation that would enact an “Alternative Fuel Incentive Fund” to bring more renewable and alternative energies to consumers. Specifically, our bill would support things like the development of cellulosic ethanol — the good kind of ethanol — and provide greater financial incentives for people to make their next car purchase a flex-fuel or hybrid vehicle.

Our proposals have received strong support, from both business and environmental groups, never an easy feat. However, there is a catch. A big one. The speaker of the Assembly.

The speaker has blocked both of our initiatives — Assembly Bills A.10818 and A.5798 — from coming to the floor and receiving an up-or-down vote. This is part and parcel of the dictatorial, not democratic, manner in which the Assembly is run.

Our conference will keep speaking out on the need to provide both short-term and long-term relief to motorists and continue trying to make real change happen. You can support our efforts by going to www.tediscostake.com and adding your name to the thousands who have already joined our online petition to make the summertime gas tax holiday a reality.

The speaker is betting you won’t make your voice heard on the need for lower gas prices. He thinks you’ll forget, or get distracted, as the days and weeks go by. Together, we can show him he’s wrong and that some things, even in New York, can change.

Jim Tedisco is the Assembly Republican Leader and represents parts of Schenectady and Saratoga counties in the 110th District.

Categories: Opinion

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