Republicans want to reduce or eliminate Pennsylvania’s highest-in-the-US gas tax. Josh Shapiro wants to send PA drivers a check for $250.
There is no shortage of issues facing Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial candidates.
Voters want to know where the candidates stand on reproductive rights, voting rights, LGBTQ+ rights, police reform, the minimum wage, the legalization of recreational marijuana, education, and more.
But with the double whammy of inflation and sticker shock at the gas pump impacting the lives of so many right now, voters are particularly interested in how the candidates plan to deal with Pennsylvania’s escalating gas prices, which still exceed the national average and hit a record high of $4.44 last month.
Some Republican candidates want to lower or suspend Pennsylvania’s 57.6-cent-a-gallon gas tax, which is the highest in the nation. Critics of that strategy contend that there is no guarantee the savings would get passed on to consumers and worry that suspending gas taxes could hurt funding earmarked for the state police and infrastructure projects like road and bridge repairs.
State attorney general and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro is proposing that the state government tap some of its unused American Rescue Plan funding (which currently totals around $2 billion) to give Pennsylvania drivers a $250 cash rebate. Economists caution that direct payments to consumers would only contribute to the cycle of inflation by potentially creating a demand for goods that are in short supply.
Here’s where the candidates stand on lowering gas prices:
Shapiro’s $250 gas tax rebate would be given to residents for each vehicle they have registered, up to four per household. The attorney general told The Keystone recently that his plan keeps funding for bridge and road repair and the state police intact, while putting money back into the pockets of Pennsylvanians.
“In states that have actually cut the gas tax, what we’ve seen is that the gas and oil executives, they’ve kept 30% of that savings,” Shapiro said. “So while they’re working to put money in the pockets of oil and gas executives, I’m working to put money in the pockets of Pennsylvanians who right now are dealing with these high costs.”
Shapiro also stressed the importance of not depriving Pennsylvania of the funds it needs for infrastructure and law enforcement.
“In Pittsburgh, we just had the Fern Hollow bridge crash, fall in,” Shapiro said. “We also have a number of structurally deficient bridges across the commonwealth. We can’t shortchange them. I also don’t want to defund the state police which is what my opponents’ plan will do.”
State Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-Centre) in March proposed legislation to lower Pennsylvania’s gas tax by nearly 20 cents per gallon through the end of the year. Corman called on his colleagues to help keep gas prices down for Pennsylvanians in the memo announcing his legislation.
“We have seen gas prices skyrocket to historic levels.” Corman wrote. “We must do all that we can to address this now at the state government level and offer our support to hard-working families.”
Corman’s bill was referred to the Transportation committee last month. It remains in committee.
Gerow, a longtime conservative activist who runs a communications and marketing firm in Harrisburg, wants a temporary reduction in the state gas tax. In a written statement issued to The Keystone, Gerow acknowledged a gas tax reduction would impact infrastructure funding, but he didn’t offer specifics on how that money would be replaced.
“I support a short term relief for all of us with a temporary reduction in the gas tax,” Gerow wrote. “But we have to be honest in telling how we are going to replace the shortfall to make sure our roads are improved and our bridges are safe.”
Through a campaign spokesperson, Hart, a Pittsburgh-based attorney, said she would call for an immediate temporary suspension of the gas tax in order to help “hurting, hard-working Pennsylvanians, many in rural communities.”
The former member of the US House (2001-2007) and state Senate (1991-2001) pledged to work closely with the General Assembly to sustain Pennsylvania’s current transportation investments.
The Chester County resident recently announced his plans to permanently cut the state gas tax by 50% if elected governor.
McSwain, the top federal prosecutor in Philadelphia for three years during the Trump administration, is the only candidate thus far to call for a permanent reduction in Pennsylvania’s gas tax. He said that a temporary reprieve is not enough and that only “a drastic and permanent reduction” of the gas tax would relieve the burden on families. He has discussed using American Rescue Plan money to make up for the elimination of the gas tax.
“There’s no reason that Pennsylvania should have the highest gas tax in the country,” McSawin said last month during a Republican candidates forum.
You could say state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin) was ahead of the curve on this one. He introduced legislation last summer that would cut Pennsylvania’s gas tax by 15 cents for six months. His bill would earmark $240 million in federal pandemic relief aid to pay for roads and bridges. It would also include a one-time fee on electric and hybrid vehicles in the state.
“Those who own these types of vehicles do not feel the full effects of a high gas tax but are still able to benefit from the roads and bridges funded by that tax,” Mastriano said in an op-ed at the time he introduced SB 813. “I believe it be perfectly logical to ask these owners to pay their fair share through an increase in registration fees.”
The bill has been sitting in the Transportation committee since July.
The Other Candidates
The following candidates did not respond to The Keystone:
- Lou Barletta (R)
- Christina Digiulio (Green Party of Pennsylvania)
- Joe Gale (R)
- Joe Soloski (I)
- David White (R)
- Nche Zama (R)