State Sen. Lisa Boscola introduced a plan this week to suspend the state’s 57.6-cent-per gallon gas tax—the highest in the nation—for two months in order to reduce the cost of gas in the commonwealth. Boscola’s bill will require approval by the Republican-led legislature to become law.
Pennsylvania residents may soon get some relief at the pump, if Democrats have their way.
State. Sen Lisa Boscola introduced a plan this week to suspend the state’s 57.6-cent-per gallon gas tax for two months in order to reduce the cost of gas in the commonwealth.
“Gas tax relief is something we can do immediately to help people in Pennsylvania to weather this inflation storm,” Boscola, a Northampton County Democrat, said at a press conference on Wednesday. “Something has to happen right now. Providing real relief to families over the summer months can really help them.”
Boscola’s bill was referred to the Transportation committee and would need approval by the Republican-led legislature to become law. If Republicans signed on, it would make Pennsylvania the sixth state to pass a gas tax holiday this year.
“Our stance is simple; we are calling on state Republicans to join us in supporting a suspension to the state gas tax,” Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said Wednesday. “We know there is concern about a loss of revenue while the pause is in place, but Pennsylvania has billions in surplus funds that can be used to maintain roads and bridges during the gas tax holiday.”
Boscola’s proposal would allocate $115 million in COVID-19 relief money from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan to make up for lost revenue that goes to the Pennsylvania State Police budget and allow for up to $150 million in PennDOT bonds to cover the lost gas tax revenue for infrastructure projects.
“We have the money to support a gas tax holiday. We can give hardworking families some relief at the gas pump and still make sure our roads and bridges receive funding,” said state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia).
Boscola is not the first state lawmaker to call for a suspension of the state gas tax. Earlier this year, Republican state Sen. Jake Corman introduced a plan to lower the state’s gas tax through the end of 2022. Gov. Tom Wolf has also called on the federal government to suspend the 18.4 cent a gallon federal gas tax.
On Wednesday, President Biden lent his support to that plan, calling on Congress to suspend gas and diesel taxes for 90 days.
Presidents have little control over the price of gas—which has risen across the world, with some countries nearing $10 per gallon—but Biden’s effort could provide some relief for drivers, especially if paired with a state gas tax holiday.
“I fully understand that a gas tax holiday alone is not going to fix the problem, but it will provide families some immediate relief, just a little bit of breathing room as we continue working to bring down prices for the long haul,” Biden said in a speech at the White House.
Biden’s demand on Wednesday is just the latest effort from his administration to lower the cost of gas. His administration has already released oil from the US strategic reserve and increased ethanol blending for the summer, in efforts to reduce prices. The White House also sent a letter to oil refiners last week, urging them to increase their refining capacity and increase supply to help bring down prices.
The president’s latest effort was well-received by Boscola and her colleagues.
“I applaud President Biden’s call for a gas tax holiday,” said state Sen. Marty Flynn (D-Lackawanna). “This is one of the most pressing issues for families, and we have money in the bank to help them. I’m done naming bridges, it’s time we do something for the people.”
Whether Congress acts on Biden’s call remains to be seen. Some Democrats in the House and Senate appear reluctant to back the idea, worrying that it would be difficult to compel gas companies—who are recording enormous profits—to pass those savings onto consumers instead of pocketing them.
Biden acknowledged this concern during his speech.
“I call on the companies to pass this along—every penny of this 18 cents reduction—to the consumer,” Biden said. “There’s no time now for profiteering.”
The top five oil companies alone—Shell, ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips—saw 300% higher profits during the first quarter of 2022 than the same timeframe in 2021, according to a recent analysis from the Center for American Progress.
“That is a total of more than $35 billion in profits in just three months,” the analysis found. “In fact, these five companies’ first-quarter profits alone are equivalent to almost 28 percent of what Americans spent to fill up their gas tanks in the same time period.”
Pennsylvania Democrats have also expressed outrage at the role corporate greed is playing in rising prices.
“This is about putting people over corporate profit,” Costa said Wednesday. “We need to implement a gas tax holiday, use Pennsylvania’s budget surplus to ensure our roads and bridges still receive the funding they need, and hold the oil and gas industry accountable to pass the savings to consumers.”
While a gas tax holiday would represent a short-term fix, Democrats in the Pennsylvania state House have also proposed bills to crack down on price-gouging in order to lower the cost of gas long-term.
The Stop Gas Gouging Act would ban oil companies or retail gas operations from raising prices more than once in a 24-hour period or during an emergency and empower the state attorney general to investigate and prosecute those who violate the law. The bill would also allow the governor to declare a market emergency that would last 30 days and make it illegal for companies to sell gas for an “unconscionably excessive price.”
The Stop Price Fixing Act, meanwhile, would give the attorney general the tools to crack down on companies that collude to artificially inflate prices, at the expense of consumers.
These bills would all require Republican approval, which is far from a guarantee, even as they’ve spent months complaining about inflation.