‘Not a panacea’: Do gas tax relief proposals stand a chance in Congress, NC legislature?

·4 min read
JEFF SINER/jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Bipartisan political will to suspend the gas tax hasn’t coalesced among North Carolina’s congressional representatives or in Raleigh despite a push from President Joe Biden.

Biden’s proposed “gas tax holiday” would stop the collection of the federal tax on gasoline and diesel — 18.3 cents per gallon for gas and 23.4 cents per gallon for diesel. The administration says the break would help Americans strapped for cash amid rising prices and inflation.

Neither of North Carolina’s U.S. senators has expressed support for the measure. Several U.S. representatives are also against it, including those from the counties surrounding Charlotte. Rep. Alma Adams, whose district includes much of Charlotte, did not respond to a request for comment.

The proposal is “nothing more than a gimmick to distract from his failed economic policies, and it could make inflation even worse,” U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis said in a statement. “The Biden Administration needs to give the energy industry certainty so they can work to expand refinery capacity and actually work to bring gas prices down for North Carolinians.”

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What could happen in NC?

It’s not just Republicans who are against the idea of a gas tax holiday. Before the 2008 presidential election, then-candidate Barack Obama said he opposed the idea, arguing that it was a political gimmick. U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware, also expressed opposition to the idea last week while saying he was glad Biden is “exploring ways to lower gas prices at the pump.”

“Suspending the primary way that we pay for infrastructure projects on our roads is a shortsighted and inefficient way to provide relief,” said Carper, of Biden’s home state, in a post on Twitter. “We should explore other options for lowering energy costs.”

On a state level, the notion of a holiday for North Carolina’s 38.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax does not appear to have enough support. Democrats have pushed a separate bill that would provide a gas tax rebate of $200 for every North Carolinian over the age of 18 who has a driver’s license.

State Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, said a rebate is preferable to a gas tax holiday because it wouldn’t deplete the N.C. Department of Transportation’s funding and would benefit a larger group of North Carolinians — including those who don’t drive as often.

He added that a gas tax suspension would give a break to out-of-state drivers who otherwise would help fill the coffers of the highway fund.

Blue said he was “relatively sure” that the N.C. General Assembly would provide some kind of relief to North Carolina residents, whether in the form of the rebate or another way.

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Any kind of gas tax relief?

Some North Carolina Republican leaders said they won’t support a gas tax holiday at the state level, including state Sen. Phil Berger, the chamber’s party leader.

“If President Biden is serious about easing the burden on working families he should re-evaluate his administration’s policies that have led to surging prices at the gas pump,” Lauren Horsch, Berger’s spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement. “Instead of these temporary gimmicks, we should focus on permanent, long-term tax relief and reining in inflation.”

Horsch said the statement also applies to Senate Bill 897, the proposed $200 gas rebate.

Rep. Jon Hardister, the N.C. House majority whip, said the Biden administration should instead find ways to increase domestic energy production.

“Suspending fuel taxes is not a panacea, and it will not address the larger problem of escalating fuel prices,” Hardister said in a statement. “The Biden Administration should adjust their policies to allow for more domestic energy production, which will result in more energy independence and lower fuel prices across the nation.”

U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, R-Davie, took a similar stance, and has co-sponsored a bill called the Unleash American Drilling Act that would require the Biden administration “to issue decisions on drilling permit applications currently frozen by the Bureau of Land Management,” according to a news release. “If passed, the bill requires (Bureau of Land Management) to issue a decision on a permit within 90 days of submission.”

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