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GOP Senate leader renews push for gas tax relief

May 18, 2022, 6:58 AM
(Getty Images)...
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

As the price at the pump continues to rise, so does the state’s revenue projections.

At the pump on Tuesday, the average price for a gallon of gas in the Seattle Metro area was up another 6 cents compared to a day earlier, 24 cents from a week ago, and a soaring 37 cents since last month.

That Tuesday price: $5.22 a gallon – another record high – a threshold being met daily as of late.

Gas prices soar to record levels across Washington state

Worse, that number is expected to keep climbing and Republican Senate Leader John Braun says that’s not sustainable for many in the state.

“I’m once again calling for a rebate on the gas tax through the end of the year to give working families around the state some relief in response to our huge increases in gas prices we’ve seen over the last year – in particular in the last month and broadly the pressures they’re feeling from inflation on all kinds of things,” Braun told KIRO Newsradio.

“Things are pretty rough and it’s pretty hard on working families, especially folks who are living either in the suburbs or in the rural area and driving into work because that’s where they can afford to live and they have to commute for work,” he explained.

The state portion of the gas tax is just over 49 cents. Braun says that’s enough to make a real difference for those in the state struggling to get by with soaring housing costs, inflation, and now gas prices rising by 6 cents a day with no end in sight.

It is not the first time Braun and the minority have pushed for the gas tax rebate in recent months.

“We’ve called for it during session. I called for it last time we had a revenue report and we had one Friday and it showed once again, the revenues continue to come in above the projections,” said Braun, stating that adding the extra money means the state can easily afford to do this.

“It’s not a situation where we’re going to shortchange transportation funding or shortchanging any services paid for by the operating budget,” he added. “We have extra funds so we could divert to cover this rebate through the end of the year. I think it’s the right thing to do for the people around the state of Washington who, frankly, are having a tough time.”

The May revenue report came in $428 million above projections. An ongoing trend.

“Every time revenue comes in higher than expected, we’re in even better shape,” said Braun. “Why don’t we reconsider this? Because the state keeps doing better and better. And the people keep getting hurt more and more by higher gas prices and, frankly, higher prices on everything.”

“The arguments have been, oh, it will impact services. That’s not true, or it’ll impact our debt rating. That’s not true, or we won’t have enough funding for transportation. That’s not true, or some of the claims somehow it will help the oil companies. That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of our tax law, it will help people. So all the claims that it won’t work are just not accurate. And, in fact, we have Democrats in other states around the country who are calling for exactly this. This is just some sort of ideological bent by the current majority,” a frustrated Braun explained.

Part of that frustration stemming from Braun is a lack of urgency among elected officials in Washington State and what sounds like deafening silence in the face of an affordability crisis.

“That’s my frustration and I’m promoting this as an opportunity to promote the rebate for the gas tax, but there are other ways we could get money back in people’s pockets,” said Braun. “We should just be thinking about it and working on how we do that, help people out, and it doesn’t have to be a ton, but every little bit helps for people who are just barely making.”

Braun worries some will hold firm on not offering any gas tax relief in an effort to get people out of their cars and fight climate change.

“I certainly think there’s some of this it’s kind of ideological, we don’t like gas, you know, combustion German driven engines. We want to force that. So I think that’s it with some folks and I think they don’t realize that,” explained Braun. “And I’m not opposed to making that transition over time, but we can’t do it today. And people have to pay their grocery bill today. So let’s make it a little easier for people in the near term, and have a longer-term plan to make that transition.”

He says this would be an easy lift if they just called a special session – with remote abilities and a little working ahead, lawmakers could get this done in a couple of hours. But will they? This is unlikely, given the lack of ‘appetite’ for broad tax relief from this past session alone.

“There was very little, in fact, no appetite in the end,” he said. “A little one for small businesses that looked like a big cut, but it really wasn’t and didn’t affect many people around the state and certainly wasn’t broad tax relief that would put money back in people’s pockets they could use to pay their rent or pay for food or, housing. So nothing has been done so far that could help regular people around the state.”

Braun hopes with the daily increases in the cost of so many things, his fellow lawmakers will see the benefit.

“We’re literally making it unaffordable to live in the state of Washington for real people around the state right now, if you could just barely afford to pay your rent and buy groceries for your family and fill up your car six months ago, you probably can’t afford to do it right now,” he added. “It’s that simple and it’s the people who are, in the toughest times, that are having the most trouble and inflation is regressive. It’s an automatic tax, especially on people who are already in tough times.”

KIRO Newsradio reached out to Democratic budget writers for their take but had not heard back.

However, when the push for broad tax relief was part of the discussion earlier this year toward the end of the session as budgets were finalized, lead Senate Budget writer Christine Rolfes explained the potential dangers from this recent inflation surge.

“We’re going into a period of inflation and running the state government will be more expensive,” said Rolfes. “If we’re not strategic about saving for that, we’ll end up in a recessionary situation where we’re cutting things again.”

“I was in the Legislature during the recession and that’s just not a place we want to be — we want the public to know that our government is sustainable,” the chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee added.

Washington’s proposed gas export tax is ‘unacceptable,’ says Oregon governor

When Republican Senators tried to push a vote on a stalled bill that would have replaced the gas tax with $15 billion from state surplus funds near the end of the session, it was quickly shot down.

“One of the reasons that I don’t support the gas tax holiday is because there’s research that shows that the biggest winners in a gas tax holiday are the oil companies who would make millions upon millions of dollars if we were to do that,” said Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig said.

If you want to see the legislature call a special session and move on the gas tax relief, Braun says your best bet is to write, e-mail, and call lawmakers and the Governor and push for it.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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GOP Senate leader renews push for gas tax relief