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Proposal would Lower New York's Gas Prices by Cutting the Gas Tax

Call it $2 gas price envy. Though New York gas prices have dropped $1.20 from a year ago, they are also 25-cents above the national average. State Sen. Jim Seward hopes to spark a statewide movement to reduce prices by reducing state gas taxes.
February 9, 2015, 8am PST | Irvin Dawid
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"State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, today (Feb. 6) announced the launch of an on-line petition drive in support of his initiative to cut New York’s gas tax," states

“One of the leading national new stories is lower gasoline prices, but unfortunately, here in New York, the price drop hasn’t been quite as steep as in other states,” said Seward.  “One of the main factors keeping our gasoline prices above the rest of the nation – taxes.”

Sen. Seward's petition to cut New York's gas taxes may be a sign of how quickly the nation has acclimated to low gas prices. A price drop of 33 percent in a year to $2.43 on February 8 is not the issue for Seward—it's the fact that New York State gas prices are higher than in all other states save Hawaii, Alaska, and California, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report.

New York does have higher gas taxes than most other states—but do taxes alone account for the higher price?

Motorists in neighboring Pennsylvania paid almost a dime less than their counterparts in New York, yet the Keystone State had the nation's highest state gas taxes on January 1 due to a recent tax increaseaccording to the American Petroleum Institute [PDF], followed by California and New York.

"Seward also wants to fix how the gas tax revenues are used," writes Robert Harding of Auburn Citizen. "He cited a report released last year by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's office that found less than one-quarter of gas taxes collected are used for bridge and road repairs, even though the intent of the gas tax is to use the funds for infrastructure improvements."

However, those funds are being used for transportation—but not for the capital costs where Seward wants them directed. According to DiNapoli's press release:

State operations costs also consume the greatest share of the fund: nearly $1.6 billion in the last fiscal year, including the costs of snow and ice removal by the Department of Transportation and day-to-day staff expenses at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Typically, staff expenses and snow and ice removal costs are regarded as ongoing costs of state operations and maintenance, not capital expenses.

Paradoxically, Seward wants "to cut New York’s gas tax and make sure that funds collected are used for their intended purpose – repairing our crumbling infrastructure." In other words, Sewards acknowledges the poor condition of roads and bridges and the need to repair them while championing reducing the taxes paid at the pump. 

If the senator truly wants to repair the crumbling infrastructure while maintaining that roads are plowed and DMV offices are staffed, he might consider championing an increase in state gas taxes at time when New York State gas prices are $1.20 per gallon less than they were a year ago. 

Hopefully we'll see stories where state legislators show more concern with how the condition of roads and bridges in their state compare with other states rather than prices paid at the pump.

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Published on Saturday, February 7, 2015 in All
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