Idaho gas-tax holiday would not be such a good idea


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Just the phrase itself, “gas-tax holiday,” has a pleasant ring to it.

Two Idaho Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Gov. Brad Little requesting a special legislative session to consider a six-month tax holiday on gasoline.

“(House and Senate Democrats) are proposing a special legislative session to consider a 6-month gas tax holiday,” the letter reads. “Taking this action in the coming weeks would give everyday Idahoans relief at the gas pump totaling 32 cents a gallon . ””

While the idea sounds nice and the legislators are trying to help their fellow Idahoans, especially in light of record gas prices, a gas-tax holiday is not the right answer. And calling a special session for it is definitely not the way to go.

Part of the reason for high gas prices is a sharp rebound in demand for gas while gas is in a supply shock, as oil production tries to recover from the declines during the pandemic. The Russian invasion of Ukraine sent the price of oil skyrocketing, as well.

The last thing you want to do when supply is low is to incentivize more demand by artificially and temporarily reducing its cost.

It’s similar to the argument against pumping more federal dollars into the economy, which many rightly argue helped get us into this inflationary mess to begin with.

The Democratic state legislators proposing this, Sen. David Nelson, of Moscow, and Rep. James Ruchti, Pocatello, estimate that a six-month gas-tax holiday would reduce state revenues by about $ 180 million.

Idaho uses much of its gas tax revenue on road maintenance, so losing $ 180 million of dedicated funding only makes our roads worse. Delaying road maintenance makes it more expensive in the long run, and Idaho is already way behind on road and bridge maintenance.

Remember when gas hit $ 4 a gallon back in the Great Recession? We didn’t seem to learn our lesson. Sales of pickup trucks came roaring back after that. Sales of light and heavy-duty trucks in the US have increased 71% in the past 10 years, from 7 million in 2011 to 12 million last year.

If you want to lower the price of gas, lower demand. You don’t have to drive Idaho’s official state vehicle, a gas-guzzling Ford F-150, which gets 18 miles per gallon.

Oil companies are laughing all the way to the bank. Their revenues and profits are skyrocketing. Shell’s revenues nearly tripled in the first three months of this year, and net income spiked to $ 7.3 billion – in just three months, according to USA Today. Other oil companies, BP, Exxon Mobil and Chevron, have shown similar explosions in profits totaling more than $ 40 billion in the first quarter of the year, according to PBS News.

At the same time, Republicans in Congress voted against an anti-price gouging bill that seeks to declare an energy emergency and make it unlawful to increase gasoline and home energy fuel prices in an “excessive” or exploitative manner.

Republicans in the Idaho Legislature went even further, passing a law last year that makes it harder for the Idaho attorney general to determine whether consumers are being gouged on the price of gas.

Finally, a short-lived gas-tax holiday is a small policy not appropriate for a special session. The proposal seems more like a political stunt than anything else.

This is yet another example of why votes should vote resoundingly “no” on a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would allow Idaho legislators to call themselves back into session.

We don’t believe that Ruchti and Nelson would be able to convince 60% of their fellow legislators to call themselves back for a gas-tax holiday, but it illustrates that lawmakers would try to call themselves back for just about any reason.

Nelson and Ruchti are right to point out that the state is projecting a $ 1.3 billion surplus and that the cost of a 6-month gas tax holiday, or its equivalent rebate, would be a drop in the bucket.

But we’d rather see the state use a surplus in other, more meaningful ways, such as property tax relief or increasing public education funding.

If there were to be a special session on an emergency measure, we’d rather see it increase the grocery tax credit or eliminate the grocery tax altogether. The price of food has risen by 10% in the past 12 months. How about a grocery -tax holiday instead?

In the meantime, legislators are in town for about three months. Let’s keep it that way.

Board members are opinion editor Scott McIntosh, opinion writer Bryan Clark, editor Chadd Cripe, newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser and community members Maryanne Jordan and Ben Ysursa.

This story was originally published June 12, 2022 4:00 AM.

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