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Senate panel rejects Youngkin’s proposal to temporarily suspend the gas tax

Gas station
Gas prices in Virginia have hovered around $4 per gallon, around 50% higher than last year. (Photo: Connor Scribner/VPM News)

A state Senate committee shut down Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposed three-month gas tax suspension. It would have cut about 26 cents off each gallon for consumers - and cost the state about $437 million.

Opponents say scrapping the tax would have long-term effects on infrastructure and suggest other ways to provide Virginians relief, including a tax rebate or refundable earned income tax credit.

Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) voted alongside nine other Democrats and two Republicans during a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday to block the governor’s tax holiday. Saslaw recalled traveling back to Northern Virginia after the session ended in March and hitting a pothole that cost him $300 in repairs.

“There’s only one reason the condition of the roads look the way they are today: money,” Saslaw said. “They don’t have the money and quite frankly, my feeling is we shouldn’t take one penny from that.”

He told the committee the condition of some Northern Virginia roads are the worst he’s seen.

“This whole thing could not come at a worse time from the standpoint of highway maintenance,” Saslaw said.

He also noted after Maryland’s 30-day gas tax holiday expired last month, prices immediately surged back to above $4 a gallon. That came days after the Labor Department reported U.S. inflation is rising at its fastest pace since 1981.

Several members of the public testified Wednesday in favor of a tax holiday in Virginia, saying it would have an immediate positive impact on residents.

Republican Sen. Steve Newman (R-Lynchburg), who sponsored the bill insisted the state had enough unanticipated revenue to cover the cost. 

“Unless we pass this bill, or a bill, or we do something in the budget, the fact is that there is coming an 8.5% increase in the cost of gasoline that is going to hit your consumers, my constituents in July,” Newman said.

The House Finance Committee approved another version of the bill on a party-line vote earlier this month, though given Wednesday’s vote, it’s unlikely to pass the Senate.

Lawmakers are also considering plans to eliminate or reduce the grocery tax.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.