TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis is calling on the Legislature to temporarily cancel out the state’s gas tax for about six months next year in an effort to relieve drivers from rising fuel prices.
At a news conference at a Buc-ee’s gas station in Daytona Beach, the governor said it was incumbent on Florida to fight rising prices — which he blamed on the policies of President Joe Biden.
The state currently places 26.5 cents in tax on each gallon of gas, a rate that changes with inflation and is set to increase to 27.3 cents per gallon on Jan. 1. (That doesn’t include federal gas taxes of 18.4 cents or local gas taxes, which vary by county.)
“We want to protect Floridians as much as we can against the inflation that we’re seeing,” the governor said.
DeSantis said he was still working out the details with state lawmakers. He estimated that canceling the state gas tax for six months would save drivers $1 billion, but he didn’t know when it would take effect. The Legislature would presumably take up the idea when they reconvene in Tallahassee on Jan. 11.
Cutting fuel taxes by $1 billion would jeopardize the roads and other transportation projects that depend on the revenue, but DeSantis said he would make that up using reserves or the state’s general revenue funds.
“We’re not going to miss a beat there with our infrastructure funds,” DeSantis said. “We’ve got the money.”
DeSantis’ request comes as motorists across the country are facing some of the highest gas prices of the year as they hit the road ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. The average price per gallon in Florida on Monday was $3.35 per gallon — higher than in any state south of Illinois and east of Colorado, and the highest average since 2014. The statewide average was just below the national average of $3.42 per gallon.
Last week, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, two Democrats who want to challenge DeSantis in the 2022 governor’s race, called for the governor to take action on the state gas tax last week.
Crist urged the governor to temporarily freeze the state’s gas tax, and Fried wrote a letter to Attorney General Ashley Moody asking her office to investigate “anti-competitive, potentially illegal activity by oil and gas companies.”
Crist on Monday said DeSantis should have asked the Legislature to pass the measure last week, when they reconvened for a special legislative session to address mask and vaccine mandates.
“Governor DeSantis is a day late and a dollar short,” Crist tweeted. “Last week’s not-so-special session should have addressed this issue instead of focusing on making COVID easier to spread. As a result, in the best case Floridians will be waiting months for any reduction in gas taxes.”
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Slashing Florida’s gas taxes has been a popular election-year talking point for politicians, but it’s been seldom used. DeSantis is running for reelection next year and is widely considered to be eying a run for president in 2024.
In 2008, when the state hit its record high of $4.08 per gallon (about $5.13 in today’s dollars), Crist proposed slashing the state’s gas taxes while he was running for governor as a Republican. U.S. Sen. John McCain also pitched suspending the federal gas tax during his run for president that year. Although Crist won, the Legislature didn’t follow through on his idea.
In 2004, another election year, the Legislature cut gas taxes by 8 cents per gallon during the month of August. It cost the state about $60 million in revenue and had little effect on the average driver — the owner of a 13.2-gallon Honda Civic would have saved about $1.05 per fill-up at the time.
DeSantis’ proposal would save that same driver about $3.60 per fill-up. The driver of a new Ford F-150 pickup would save about $7 when filling its 26-gallon tank.
A DeSantis office news release said the average family would save up to $200 during his proposed “gas tax holiday,” although the office did not immediately say how it calculated that amount.
“That will be real meaningful relief for people,” DeSantis said.
Although DeSantis attributed inflation to rising gas prices, experts have pointed to lower supply and increased demand coming out of the pandemic.
DeSantis’ idea to cut taxes while preserving transportation funding was praised by the Florida Transportation Builders Association, the trade group that represents road builders and others that rely on state funding.
But the group’s president, Ananth Prasad, said that gas prices are more affected by supply and demand. He encouraged the Biden administration to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, an idea that the president is said to be considering. The federal government has stored about 600 million barrels of crude oil in four underground caverns in Texas and Louisiana.
“Ultimately, the price we pay at the pump would largely depend on the federal government’s willingness to tap into the strategic oil reserve and take other measures to meaningfully effect the supply and demand imbalance,” Prasad said in a statement.
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