Va. House Democrats propose $50 payments to car owners instead of gas tax holiday

‘Our plan would get money to Virginians’

By: - April 8, 2022 7:44 pm

House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, speaks on the floor of the House of Delegates. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Democrats in the Virginia House of Delegates are proposing sending money directly to Virginia drivers as an alternative to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s plan to temporarily suspend the state’s gas tax.

In a news release Friday, House Democrats said they want to give $50 rebates to every car owner, or up to $100 per household. Republicans have called for suspending the 26.2-cents per gallon gas tax from May through July before phasing it back in August and September.

In an interview, House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, said the Democratic plan is a “clean, clear and concise” way to help Virginians who may be struggling with higher gas costs.

“Our plan would get money to Virginians and get it to them immediately,” Filler-Corn said, noting Youngkin’s plan is less direct. “He said of his own plan he can’t guarantee savings for consumers.”

Democrats are planning to offer up their alternative relief plan whenever the General Assembly reconvenes to finish work on the state budget and take up Youngkin’s gas-tax suspension bill.

Youngkin’s office insisted Friday that the GOP plan would have a bigger impact for Virginia drivers.

“The governor appreciates that Democrats are finally realizing the impact rising costs are having on Virginians, but their new brainchild does nothing to lower gas prices and is ripe for fraud,” said Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter.

The Youngkin administration estimates its plan would cost the state $437 million in revenue. House Democrats estimate their plan would cost up to $135 million. 

Though House Democrats are proposing a fixed relief amount, the impact of Youngkin’s proposal is harder to measure because it depends largely on how much someone drives and how fuel-efficient their vehicle is. Motor fuels taxes are levied on distributors, not consumers, and Youngkin has conceded suspending the tax won’t guarantee prices will drop by exactly 26.2 cents. Filler-Corn’s office noted that if the price dropped that amount, a Virginia driver would need to buy roughly 200 gallons of gas, more than a dozen fill-ups for most cars and small SUVs, to get to $50 in savings.

Republicans dismissed the $50 payments as paltry.

That’s barely enough for a tank of gas,” House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, said on Twitter. “It’s out of touch with working class families & with the cost of doing business in VA. Get out of the bubble!”

Senate Democrats, whose majority power gives them more leverage than House Democrats, have also voiced support for sending more money directly to Virginians instead of changing the gas tax. 

In an interview this week, Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, called the GOP-supported gas tax holiday a “terrible idea,” noting the Republican bill would also cap future increases to the state’s gas tax rate tied to inflation. Republicans, he said, appear to be looking for a short-term political win at the expense of the state’s long-term transportation funding.

“It’s just something that we need to be very, very careful about,” Marsden said.

Though both sides have been eager to engage in a public messaging battle and talk up their ideas to help Virginians get emergency relief from high gas prices, the pace of the General Assembly’s work has been anything but swift. 

The politically divided state legislature — where Republicans control the House and Democrats control the Senate — adjourned March 12 with no budget deal. Youngkin called lawmakers back to Richmond on April 4, but they left again without taking any substantive votes or holding any committee hearings. It’s unclear if lawmakers will return to the Capitol before April 27, the already scheduled date to take up gubernatorial vetoes and amendments. The House Finance Committee is tentatively planning to meet April 19 or April 20 to take up the gas tax bill.

Meanwhile, the average gas price in Virginia has dipped slightly over the last month, from about $4.10 per gallon to $4.01, according to AAA.

Republicans have pointed out Democrats in other states have seemed more eager to support relief at the pump. Maryland, which has a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature, suspended its 36.1 cent gas tax last month. As of Friday, the average gas price in Maryland was $3.75, according to AAA. Maryland’s gas-tax holiday was limited to 30 days, much shorter than Youngkin’s proposal to suspend or lower the tax in Virginia for the entire summer.

Youngkin’s office also pointed to a recently announced budget deal in New York, where the state government is controlled entirely by Democrats, that includes a partial gas tax suspension from June 1 through the end of the year.

But Democrats in other states are pursuing gas rebate payments as the best way to provide relief. In California, which has some of the highest gas prices in the country, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed a $400 rebate per vehicle.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. Contact him at [email protected]