As gasoline prices approach $5 a gallon, the idea of temporarily suspending Minnesota’s state fuel tax is getting more attention.
MINNEAPOLIS — There is very little state legislature that can do to change the conditions in the global petroleum market that are driving gas prices up. But some are still pitching the idea of giving motorists a temporary 28.5 cents per gallon discount.
“It’s pretty easy. We suspend the collection of the gasoline tax. We’re saving Minnesotans 28.5 cents a gallon,” Rep. Dan Wolgamott, a Democrat from St. Cloud, told KARE.
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The idea of the gas tax holiday has caught on with consumers as prices at the pump are fast approaching the $5 gallon.
“We’re paying for it dollar for dollar from our historic budget surplus so we can continue to have funds for our roads and bridges.”
Rep. Wolgamott is one of several House Democrats who introduced legislation in February that would suspend the state fuel tax of 28.5 cents a gallon between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
They estimated that lost gas tax revenue over that 98-day period would be about $200 million, which would be replaced with cash from the state’s projected $9 billion surplus. In Minnesota, all fuel tax revenues must be spent on roads and bridges.
Five states — Florida, Georgia, Connecticut, Maryland and New York — have already introduced gas tax exemptions, and similar bills are pending in several other states.
But the DFL-controlled house failed to pass the bill during the 2022 session. In fact, it was not heard on the House Transportation Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Frank Hornstein, a Minneapolis Democrat.
She faced an even harder road in the Republican-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller of Winona was quick to dismiss it.
“This is just another election year gimmick by the Democrats. The best way to relieve Minnesotans is through permanent tax cuts.”
House Republicans tried in March to force the bill out of committee, using a parliamentary maneuver known as staying the rules, which allows legislation to bypass committee procedure and go straight to the ground.
That requires a two-thirds majority, or 90 out of 134 members of the House of Representatives. At least 20 Democrats would have had to defy the lead and join Republicans to suspend the rules. They didn’t approve of the idea and wrote it off as a stunt for campaign literature.
Wolgamott told KARE that while he liked the idea of a tax holiday, he didn’t think it was the right way to go at the time.
“When we’re talking about spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, we have to do our legal due diligence. We need to have committee hearings and get input from our colleagues who are experts in this area.”
Proponents would have to convince their fellow MPs to take up the idea during a special session. The fate of a proposed special session is still unknown. Several key spending and tax laws were not passed before the May 23 regular session, as required by the Constitution.
This week, former Viking Matt Birk, who is the recommended GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, tweeted support for the idea. In December, GOP House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt listed a moratorium on the gas tax as part of a strategy to ease the pain of runaway inflation.
Rep. Daudt this week blasted Democrats who didn’t make it when given the opportunity to suspend the rules in March. He also accused the sponsors of the gas tax exemption of being hypocritical because they supported the idea of raising the gas tax in the past.
Those bills didn’t make it to the governor’s desk because the GOP-controlled Senate opposed the idea of raising fuel taxes or adjusting them for inflation, which was the DFL House of Representatives’ proposal.
Wolgamott said he supported the idea of raising more money for roads and bridges, but that was before the state had a $9 billion surplus. And this at a time when petrol prices were much lower.
Some opponents have said they are concerned if the gas tax holiday ends and the 28.5 cents a gallon tax goes back to the tab at the pump, there will be a backlash from consumers who blame lawmakers for ending the holiday will do.