CLARKSBURG, W.Va – Suspending the gas tax is a hot topic across the U.S., and on Tuesday, Democratic lawmakers in West Virginia held a conference over Zoom to promote suspending the state’s gas tax.
Last week, a group of lawmakers met in Charleston to ask Gov. Justice to consider a pause on the tax. Justice responded with a lengthy release, saying he did not have the power to fulfill the request. The lawmakers responded, accusing Gov. Justice of making the suggestion a partisan issue and calling him “erratic and disrespectful.”
State Senator Stephen Baldwin (D – Greenbrier), Delegate Doug Skaff (D – Kanawha), State Senator Richard Lindsay (D- Kanawha), Delegate Shawn Fluharty (D – Ohio), and Delegate John Doyle (D – Jefferson) met with media during Tuesday’s Zoom meeting to provide information about the possible gas tax suspension such as why they want it to be in effect and what is preventing it from happening.
The West Virginia gas tax is currently 35.7 cents per gallon, and the representatives are hoping to suspend it for 30 days. The suspension would cost the state $35 million dollars which lawmakers said would come out of the state road surplus funds. The cost would not affect work or maintenance on West Virginia roads, Senator Lindsay assured.
Why they want the tax suspended
They said that the main reason that it should be suspended is to help West Virginians who are struggling with inflation. In the last month, gas prices have spiked massively, and a gallon costs almost 80 cents more than it did a month ago.
“The real issue here is really clear: West Virginians are struggling,” said Senator Baldwin. He also said that he has heard that some West Virginians are not able to make it to shifts at work or take their children to extracurriculars because of high gas prices.
Removing the gas tax would put the amount of that tax, 35.7 cents per gallon, directly back into West Virginians’ pockets, the representatives explained.
“The customers will get every penny of the benefits,” explained Del. Doyle.
Although Gov. Justice said last week that he is not able to suspend the tax, representatives and senators pointed out that neighboring state Maryland just did so and saw drastic and immediate results.
“The entire 36 cents went to purchasers in Maryland,” pointed out Del. Doyle. According to AAA, in the last week, Maryland has seen the average price of gas drop by over 47 cents from an average of $4.25 last week to $3.78 this week. While some of this is likely due to the slight national drop in prices, the removal of the 36 cent gas tax is obvious and was immediate for Maryland residents.
Del. Shawn Fluharty pointed out that if gas prices are so much lower in neighboring states, West Virginians near the border might travel out of state to get gas, and in turn bring revenue out of the state. He also said that this could become more of a problem in places like the northern panhandle if Ohio and Pennsylvania also choose to suspend their gas taxes.
What needs to happen next
In order to temporarily band the gas tax, Gov. Justice would have to call a special session of the West Virginia Legislature, but what is stopping it? The panel said that they believe legislation could be passed very quickly if the session was called, saying that they don’t know any lawmaker, including Gov. Justice who wouldn’t support it if party biases weren’t an issue. “He’s trying to play political games,” Del. Fluharty said about Gov. Justice.
In order for the tax suspension to pass, the panel said that both Democrats and Republicans would have to put partisan biases aside.
Sen. Baldwin said that they are already working on a bill to be proposed in a special session. “I’m convinced this special session could knock this thing out in a couple hours max,” said Sen. Baldwin.
Although the current concept pauses the West Virginia gas tax for 30 days, Del. Doyle said that if Gov. Justice calls a special session, he hopes that lawmakers would be open to longer pauses or even suggested that giving Gov. Justice the ability to pause the tax in 30-day increments would be an option. “We’ve got the money,” he said.
Del. Skaff also said that if a special session isn’t called, representatives who support the idea are willing to put together a petition to promote Gov. Justice to do so.
To read Gov. Justice’s full statement regarding the pause on the gas tax in West Virginia, click here.