Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of the summer season for American families. As one of the busiest weekends for motorists everywhere, AAA is anticipating, approximately 32.1 million travelers to take to America’s highways. Those driving in New York can anticipate paying record-high prices for travel this week, with a cost of gasoline in our region hovering around $3.25 per gallon. These prices are up about 30 cents from last year and experts expect the cost of a gallon of gasoline to climb even higher.
Gas prices nationwide currently average $3.19 for a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline; however, New York is significantly higher, with an average gallon of gasoline costing some 12 cents higher than neighboring states. In light of this, my Assembly Minority Conference proposed a three-point plan to offer short-term and long-term relief for middle-class motorists. The plan would cut gas taxes, promote alternative fuels and vehicles and fast-track the availability of ethanol fuel (E-85) at the 27 Thruway Service Stations across the state.
There are currently seven taxes on a gallon of gasoline. The federal tax rate is 18.4 cents and the state taxes account for 33 cents (local taxes are approximately 11 cents). Our proposal would reduce gas taxes so they will be in line with the average northeast state tax rate. This would provide an immediate savings to motorists of approximately 12.5 cents per gallon. We realize that some of the tax dollars from fuel sales go toward maintaining our roadways and bridges, and I assure you that dedicated highway, bridge and transportation funds would be held harmless and be funded by the general fund.
Providing immediate tax relief is not the answer to high prices and that’s why the second and third points of our plan aim at providing grants and other incentives for the research and development of other fuel sources through the creation of the “Alternative Fuels Fund.” This fund would make use of the remaining sales tax revenue on gasoline to provide a fund to encourage ownership of hybrid and flex-fuel vehicles and the building of alternative fueling stations and refineries to expand the availability of these fuels in our state. I understand that the cost of a new vehicle is not always feasible, but there is good news.
There are almost 200,000 flex-fuel cars, trucks and vans registered in New York state. If half of the flex-fuel (can accept gasoline or ethanol) vehicles on the road today used E-85 half of the time, it would not only save those motorists 60-70 cents per gallon, it would also lower gas prices for all other drivers due to decreased demand, not to mention all the other benefits.
Right now, New York state only has two E-85 flex-fuel pumps and only one is in service – at a private gas station in Albany. We are calling for the Thruway Authority to lead by example and install E-85 pumps at each of their 27 Thruway Service Stations. Nearly one year ago, on July 13, 2006, the Thruway Authority broke ground on an E-85 pump at the New Baltimore Travel Plaza in Greene County. It was scheduled to be open to motorists on October 1, 2006 with the other 26 stations soon to follow. However, none of other stations has even broken ground, and the New Baltimore station has the pump but no fuel and thus lies dormant. Now more than ever it is time the Thruway Authority follows through with its pledge.
New York needs to take an aggressive approach in providing its citizens with both short- and long-term relief at the gas pumps. Tax breaks for flex-fuel vehicles are a necessary step, but we need to make sure that the fuel is widely and readily available. The benefits of this transformation would be far reaching and would affect our economy, our environment and our dependency on foreign oil. It is the 21st Century and it is time we started acting that way.