On Monday, State Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, released a statement calling for a suspension of the 49.4 cent state gas tax, calling it the “one sure way to lower the cost of gasoline.”
The senator said a gas tax suspension makes sense given the continued increase in gas prices and improvement in the state’s revenue situation.
“In a matter of hours, the Legislature could meet and pass legislation to knock almost 50 cents off the price of a gallon. In the central Puget Sound area, gas has gone up 31 cents per gallon on average in the month since Republicans last called for legislative intervention. How much higher does it have to go before our Democratic colleagues decide their constituents should get some relief?” said Braun, who noted a recent report on state revenue collection indicated a $428 million increase from a February revenue forecast.
“Clearly,” Braun said, “the gas tax could be suspended through the end of the year … without jeopardizing a single state program or service.”
Braun also criticized Democrats in the Legislature and in the federal government for failure to act on rising gas prices.
“The federal government has been ineffective at slowing the rise in fuel costs. Democrats at all levels can blame Putin all they want, but that’s not the underlying cause of the price increases, and in any case the Ukraine situation isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon. Our Legislature represents the only real hope for the people of Washington to pay significantly less at the pump,” Braun wrote. “If our Democratic colleagues here in Washington are OK with the soaring gas prices because they see it as a way to get people out of their cars, I wish they’d come out and say so. If not, they should join with us to call a special session and suspend the gas tax with a strong bipartisan vote that could deter a veto.”
According to AAA, as of Wednesday, Washington’s average gas price per gallon was $5.148, $0.581 above the national average of $4.567. In Lewis County, the average gas price per gallon was $5.234 as of Wednesday. It was $5.164 in Thurston County and $5.171 in Grays Harbor County.
Several state legislators in the 19th, 20th and 35th legislative districts — all within The Chronicle’s coverage area — were asked to comment on the Senate minority leader’s statement. The following are the statements released by the legislators who chose to respond:
Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Mason County, 35th District:
“I feel it would be a really good thing for our citizens and our economy to call a special session and relieve our citizens of that 49 cents. It would send a clear message to Washington, D.C., to send the signal that we have to do something about inflation … Last session, the majority party moved a tremendous amount of money from the general fund to transportation projects … There's still a tremendous amount of money that could be used to offset the losses of tax reductions. A temporary solution. The cost of diesel costs everyone tremendously and is fueling the fires of inflation tremendously. (This is) something I think is very necessary and something that will help all the citizens of the state and our economy.”
Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, 19th District:
“Over the last two years, gas prices have doubled, showing how vulnerable we are to even slight disruptions in fuel supply. Things are going to get even worse over the next few years, as Washington state implements cap and trade and low-carbon fuel standards. These programs are designed to promote electric cars by making gas even more expensive than it is now.
We can deal with the immediate, short-term problem by passing Senate Bill 5897, which would suspend the state gas tax through the end of the year and give every consumer in Washington state an immediate 49.4-cent-a-gallon discount on fuel. We have more than enough money to cover it, and the sooner we can hold a special session, the better. This would buy us time to take a long, hard look at the misery high fuel prices create for the poorest and most vulnerable among us – and give us a chance to ask ourselves, ‘is this a direction we really want to go?’”
Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, 20th District:
“I agree with Sen. Braun — with such a rapid rise in fuel prices, the quickest and easiest way to provide relief is to suspend the gas tax and use surplus general fund revenues to keep transportation projects/operations funded. It is something we can and should do now in a short special session.”
Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, 20th District:
“Washington state’s gas tax is among the highest in the nation. The tax and over-regulation have given Washington state the unwelcomed distinction of having the highest average gasoline price in the nation. The governor and his majority party’s mismanagement of the operating and transportation budgets coupled with their unwillingness to provide tax relief disproportionately hurts rural communities and low-income and fixed-income households. While we are seeing gas increases nationwide, Washington’s gas price increase over the past four years has far outpaced the national average increase. Washingtonians are feeling it at the pump, at the grocery store, and it creates barriers to education, employment, and a better quality of life. Relief is long overdue.”
Abbarno also posted a statement on his Facebook page on Tuesday in which he decried the impact of rising gas prices, specifically referencing the increased costs for students driving to Centralia College and workers commuting to Olympia.
“If a student from Morton drives to Centralia to attend Centralia College they drive 80 miles round-trip,” he wrote. “If the student's vehicle gets 20 mpg, that student pays $20.76 per day just to attend class. A barrier to education! If a retail worker lives in Centralia and drives to Capital Mall in Olympia for work, they drive 51 miles round-trip. If the employee works 5 days a week and gets 20 mpg they spend $66.17/week and $264.69/month. They need to work an extra 2 days per month just to cover the increase in gas from two years ago. A barrier to employment!
“Washington state has the third highest gas tax in the country and over the past four years, the increased cost of fuel in Washington has doubled the national average increase. Too many taxes! Too many regulations! Not enough accountability!” Abbarno continued.