It’s probably not a coincidence that we use a car-related term — jump-start — when we refer to improving the economy.
Especially here in upstate New York, we rely heavily on our vehicles, for everything from going to work and school to delivering products to and from our businesses.
But just as we’re starting to pull out of the covid economy, as companies try to entice people back to the workplace and small businesses start expanding hours and restocking their shelves, we get hit with an unexpected obstacle — skyrocketing gas prices.
Gasoline prices surged past $4 a gallon last week and are rapidly jetting toward $5, threatening any worthwhile recovery and setting back the middle class and businesses just as they’re trying to get back on their feet.
One of the fastest ways to get money back in people’s pockets would be to suspend New York’s high gas taxes.
Local Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara last week proposed a one-year suspension of the tax on gasoline and diesel fuel, potentially saving New Yorkers around 50 cents per gallon. A version proposed in the state Senate, co-sponsored by local Sens. Jim Tedisco and Daphne Jordan, would suspend the tax only until Sept. 1, as well as direct all future gas tax money to a state infrastructure fund.
Fifty cents on a $4 or $5 gallon of gas might not sound like much. But if you drive a lot of miles, it could save you a lot of money quickly. An average commuter might save $1,100 to $1,200 a year, while one local delivery truck driver could save $50,000 a year, Santabarbara estimates.
Lowering the cost of doing business could also help middle-class consumers by keeping prices for goods and services affordable, and lower transportation and delivery costs could help struggling businesses survive.
Of course, there are consequences to suspending a tax. The money has to come from somewhere.
If you’re worried that eliminating the tax for six months or a year would deprive the state of money to fix roads and bridges, it won’t have as much impact as you think.
Only about 17 percent of the tax goes directly into an infrastructure repair fund. The rest goes into the state’s bottomless pit of a general fund and other places.
State legislative leaders currently negotiating the 2022-23 state budget could incorporate the loss of revenue from the gas tax into the spending plan, adjust their spending and ensure that roads and bridge repairs and upgrades are financed.
State and local governments, which could lose revenue from their share of a suspended gas tax, could make up that loss from sales taxes generated by more sales due to people having more money to spend. They already have benefited from a large injection of covid aid that also could soften the blow from a temporary loss in gas tax revenue.
Once the six months or year is up, the state might find it doesn’t need to reinstate all or any of the gas tax. If the state can go a year without the revenue, maybe it can go longer — saving residents more money in the long-term from the state’s high taxes.
Right now, it’s vital that New Yorkers get some kind of immediate relief from high gas prices to help them survive financially and to boost the economy.
State officials can’t do anything about the cause of the gasoline price spike nationally.
But they can do something for their own residents by immediately suspending the gasoline tax.