Virginia gas tax holiday bill fails in Senate committee

The gas tax holiday bill recommended by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin will not move forward during this special session of the General Assembly, after being effectively killed by the Finance and Appropriations Committee.

While several members of the public voiced support for SB 6001, which would have eliminated the statewide gas tax from May through July and phased it back in slowly in August and September, questions about the financial impact of the holiday — both for consumers in the short term and its effect on the state’s ability to pay for long-term projects — led to the bill being “passed by indefinitely” by a 12-3 vote, with one Republican voting with Democrats on the committee.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Stephen Newman, a Republican, at Youngkin’s request, aimed to provide immediate relief for people dealing with high gas prices at the pumps and contemplating changes of summer travel plans because of inflation.

Newman said that when Maryland introduced a similar gas tax reprieve bill on March 18, gas prices dropped 21 cents that day.

Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said in a statement, “Senate Democrats showed today that they are completely out of touch with Virginians. Refusing to lower gas prices in Virginia is a direct affront to the millions in the Commonwealth who are experiencing an increased cost of living across the board. This is deeply disappointing for all those who expect their elected representatives to work on their behalf, not against it.”

Youngkin has said the state has collected extra money in taxes, which should go back to residents.

Several members of the public, including Susan Hannah, a disabled veteran, said high gas prices are hurting them: “It’s affecting my ability to get care at the VA hospital,” said Hannah. “I have to give up some of my treatment in order to not spend the money on gas.”

However, Committee Chair Janet Howell, of Northern Virginia, said the temporary benefits of the tax relief would have long-term effects on important transportation projects.

Howell said the General Assembly’s plans to fund transportation projects included a two-year phased increase in gas taxes: “This planned phased increase is now being described as ‘surplus transportation revenue.'”

Howell added that, “Other approaches supported by the Senate, such as the tax rebate check or refundable earned income tax credit, would likely be more effective options in providing relief to our citizens.” Democrats have proposed a $50 rebate to every car owner in Virginia, arguing in part that the relief from a gas tax holiday would also go to tourists, and commuters from D.C. and Maryland.

Newman acknowledged that: “Some have the raised the question, what about out-of-staters? Especially you in Northern Virginia. Are we helping others? In part, yes. There’s no other way around that. We are.”

Howell said the gas tax holiday bill would reduce funding important transportation projects by about $437 million. Sen. Dick Saslaw said funding the bill would affect commuters — especially highway maintenance.

“The condition of the roads in Northern Virginia, and I can’t speak for the rest of the state, are the worst they have seen in the 42 years that I’ve been in office. The reason is one word — money. They don’t have the money, and quite frankly, my feeling is we shouldn’t take one penny from that,” Saslaw said.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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