Blunt maintains fuel-tax holiday a bad idea

Saturday, September 3, 2005

A Democratic Party call to give Missourians a break on their fuel taxes ran out of gas before it moved very far down the road.

The Missouri Legislature begins a special session Tuesday. Abortion restrictions and bills to fix errors and contradictions in laws passed earlier this year top the session's agenda. Democrats wanted Republican Gov. Matt Blunt to expand the agenda to include a fuel-tax holiday, but he refused.

Despite the run-up in gas prices since Hurricane Katrina knocked out Gulf Coast production, Blunt won't back down from his position that a tax holiday is a bad idea.

Democratic leaders want a two-week tax holiday on 10 cents a gallon. The proposal would save motorists about $18.4 million, Democrats said. Missourians pay 17 cents a gallon in state fuel taxes.

"The idea advanced by the Democrats would put lives at risk and jeopardize $19 million worth of transportation projects," Blunt spokesman Spence Jackson said. "Once that money is gone, we will never get it back."

If Blunt doesn't like the Democrats' idea, House assistant minority leader Paul Levota of Independence said, he should come up with a better idea. "I really hate to see the governor trying to scare people just because he doesn't like an idea we are proposing."

A waiver of some anti-pollution rules announced Friday should help control fuel prices, Blunt said. The waiver, however, applies only to fuel sold in some urban areas of Missouri.

The tax holiday sounds good to one Republican governor. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue announced Friday he would bring the Georgia Legislature into session Tuesday to enact a one-month fuel-tax break. Georgia collects 7.5 cents per gallon and a 4 percent sales tax on fuel. The break will cost the state road program between $60 million and $75 million, said Karlene Barron, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Gasoline prices Friday afternoon hovered around $3 a gallon in Cape Girardeau. In other areas nearby, motorists reported prices as high as $3.29 a gallon to the Internet site www.missourigasprices.com.

House Democratic leader Jeff Harris of Columbia said a tax holiday would give "instant relief at the pump."

But Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson, said he wasn't sure the tax holiday was the best solution. The state must examine closely whether retailers are setting prices responsibly or taking advantage of a panic.

"I am more interested in taking a long-term approach to solving the problem. In the short term, it will grant some relief to some people, but on the back end, we will have to replace that funding for our roads from somewhere."

The volatile gas market favored motorists Friday. Prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 22 cents a gallon on word that European refineries will ship gas to the United States.

"That's the best news I have seen in a long time," said Michael Wright, spokesman for AAA of Missouri.

The Georgia road fund can afford a tax holiday because that state reaps the benefits of every price increase, Wright said. Missouri does not because its tax is based on gallons sold, which decrease as the price rises.

"It sounds good, but it is almost impractical to do it in a state like Missouri," Wright said.

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