Local lawmaker seeks temporary repeal of state gas tax, some fees

Huffman says federal infrastructure money could take its place; DeWine rep says that’s not wise

A state lawmaker from the Dayton area says he’s looking to help alleviate one of inflation’s most daunting challenges: rising fuel prices.

State Sen. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, last week provided sponsor testimony on Senate Bill 277, which is aimed at temporarily repealing the gas tax increase included in the 2019 state transportation budget.

In 2019, the legislature approved an increase of 10.5 cents a gallon on gas and 19 cents a gallon on diesel to generate $1.5 billion over five years to repair and upgrade Ohio’s roads, highways and bridges.

But the federal government passing a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package last August means Ohio will get an estimated $11.5 billion dollars for that purpose over the next five years.

“The federal government is giving us $10 billion more than we estimated we need to fix our roads and bridges,” Huffman said. “The gas tax is a tax on the poor because they can least afford to spend that ... several (dollars) a week for extra gas and that adds up quickly ... so it’s meant to give some relief for rising gas prices.”

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But Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who worked to have higher gas taxes implemented in 2019, does not think it’s wise fiscal policy to use temporary or one-time funds to replace ongoing funding sources, according to DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney.

“That’s the crux of this issue,” Tierney said. “We do understand the nature of the bill and why it’s coming up at this time, but it also does go beyond motor fuel tax. It goes toward registration fees that are paid by vehicles that use less or no gasoline or all and that’s specifically designed to go to road maintenance. So clearly this is a bill that goes beyond the gas tax.”

Huffman said people opposed to the bill are “people who spend the money,” including county engineers and local jurisdictions that hand out contracts to construction firms. He said Ohio can cut taxes and still make the necessary infrastructure improvements and repairs.

SB 277 also would, if approved, suspend for the next five years special registration fees paid by owners of electric and hybrid vehicles — $200 for electric vehicles and $100 for hybrid vehicles.

The bill has 15 co-sponsors in the Ohio Senate, including Ohio Sen. George Lang, R-West Chester Twp., and State Sen. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg. If it became law, it would reduce the state motor fuel tax from 47 cents a gallon for diesel fuel and 38.5 cents a gallon for gasoline, down to 28 cents a gallon for both.

Tierney said the governor’s office is reviewing the bill.

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“The way we’re going to give a break at the pump is by encouraging better energy policy at the federal level,” he said. “Certainly, the governor disagrees with the various positions that have been made to reduce our oil capacity that have resulted in gas hikes at the pump recently. We need to fundamentally fix our problem when it comes to energy.”

The average price of gas in Ohio has frequently risen in the last year, climbing more than $1.14 for diesel and 95 cents for regular gas as of Thursday, according to AAA.

Huffman points to a proposal by Democratic senators to eliminate the federal gas tax for the remainder of the year because of the high price of gas to illustrate lawmakers attempting similar measures on the national level.

“I think other people are thinking the same way that our energy policy has been difficult over the last couple years with closing the pipeline and not being able to have enough oil and gas,” he said. “This (Ohio bill) just provides a little bit relief for the normal people out there.”

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