TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers plan to suspend collection of the state’s gas tax in October, saving motorists about 27 cents for every gallon of fuel they buy.
The decision was made Wednesday, in the final days of this year’s legislative session. The state will fill the projected $200 million revenue shortfall with federal coronavirus stimulus dollars.
The proposal was announced as lawmakers are putting the finishing touches on the state budget, which is scheduled to be finalized and sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis next week.
Despite record gas prices currently, state lawmakers are choosing to wait until October, they said, because it’s one of the months when the state has the fewest tourists.
“Our goal was to make sure Floridians are able to have as much access to the $200 million reduction,” the House’s budget leader, Rep. Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, said Wednesday.
It’s also the month when Floridians will start voting for the November election, when DeSantis and Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, will be on the ballot. Simpson is running to become the state’s agriculture commissioner.
DeSantis had asked lawmakers to use $1 billion in federal money to waive the gas tax for about six months this year, but Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, were lukewarm to the idea, noting it would benefit tourists.
Sen. Kelli Stargel, who oversees the Senate’s budget, insisted that the idea to lower the gas tax was not the governor’s.
“I’ve had several people have come to me about tax relief,” she said. “Just because he proposed it first or the House proposed it first, or the Senate, doesn’t mean it’s not a monopoly on the idea. We all are hearing this same thing from people all over the state of Florida.”
Stargel added that May and October are the months with the fewest tourists.
“It had nothing to do with the election,” she said.
On Wednesday, the average price of gas nationally was $4.25, tying last week’s record, according to AAA, and prices are expected to rise.
In Congress, Republicans have resisted a cut to the federal gas tax, calling it an election year stunt for Democrats who might be vulnerable in the fall’s midterm elections.
“It’s a desperate cry for help. I think (Democrats) realize they’re on the wrong side of the energy issue, the wrong side of the inflation issue,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., told reporters in the Capitol last month, according to NBC.
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