By Kathleen Murphy
Record-high gas prices may send you scrounging for loose change
under the car seat, but so far only Florida is considering
lowering its fuel tax to try to ease the pain.
Unlike four years ago when at least two states temporarily
eased gas taxes, other states have no immediate plans to follow
suit. Back then, the governors of Illinois and Indiana suspended
collections after gas prices in their states approached the
$2-per-gallon mark. High gas prices also prompted a federal
investigation into price gouging in 2000.
Gas prices this year reached a record-high national average
of $1.76 per gallon on April 2, according to the American
Automobile Association daily fuel gauge report. Prices ranged
from an average of $2.13 in Hawaii to $1.61 in Oklahoma, sparking
public frustration that could grow into a national political
issue. Floridas average gas price on April 2 was $1.79
The Florida House voted unanimously April 1 to cut the gas
tax by 10 cents per gallon for a month in either July or August,
and the budget amendment now awaits Senate action. On Friday,
senators demanded hearings on the soaring gas prices, according
to the Palm Beach Post. Florida motorists pay 14.3 cents per
gallon in state fuel taxes, and a 10-cent reduction could
siphon $90 million from state coffers.
If the measure passes, the state could make up the difference
from projects vetoed by the governor, said Rep. Bob Henriquez,
D-Tampa, who proposed the tax relief.
I simply want to try to stimulate our Florida economy
by lowering gas prices during the months that are so important
to us, when most people drive in Florida
some belief that prior to the election, that prices will come
down some way, somehow. Ive done the best that I can
to try not to make this a partisan issue or focus on why gas
prices are so high, Henriquez told Stateline.org.
Gas prices have become an issue in the presidential race,
with President Bush and Democrat John Kerry trading charges
about them. Bush has accused Kerry of supporting a 50-cent
federal gas tax. Kerry countered that consumers are paying
more than 10 percent more for gas since Bush took office,
and that this amounts to a Bush gas tax.
The federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon is used for
highway improvement. It is collected in all states in addition
to any state or local gas taxes. State gas taxes range from
7.5 cents per gallon in Georgia to nearly 33 cents per gallon
in New York, the American Petroleum Institute said.
Some states, such as Louisiana, charge a flat tax rate per
gallon. Others levy a tax on the dollar amount of gas sold.
Some states also let localities charge a gas tax.
U.S. motorists have been paying more at the pump partly because
crude oil prices last month hit their highest level since
the 1990 Gulf War. On March 31, the Organization of Petroleum
Exporting Countries, which pumps about a third of the world's
oil, said it would cut production by 4 percent.
John Person, a Chicago financial analyst, said lower-than-expected
gasoline inventories have been driving higher prices but he
expects a change in coming weeks.
As inventories build in crude oil, then youre
going to see price relief at the gas pump. We are building
inventories, Person said.
But Person said prices wont go below $1.50 anytime
soon. Also, beefed-up security at U.S. ports will translate
into delivery delays that could keep prices elevated, he said.
Adjusted for inflation, previous gas crunches were worse
than the current one. The 1981 gas price in this years
dollars was more than $2.80 a gallon.