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Government & Politics

Biden's proposal to suspend gas tax fuels debate in Ohio governor's race

A customer pumps gas in Columbus.
Daniel Konik
/
Statehouse News Bureau
A customer pumps gas in Columbus.

A federal gas tax suspension over the course of three months would result in Ohio losing $375 million for construction projects for roads and bridges.

That’s according to the Ohio Department of Transportation, which said every major pending project would have to be put on hold during that time. The department said the loss of revenue would more than double if Ohio followed suit and put the brakes on the state gas tax.

President Joe Biden has called for a three-month suspension of the 18-cent federal gas tax, which requires an act of Congress. Biden has also called on each state to pause their own gas tax. He has said this would provide needed relief for people around the country dealing with higher prices at the pump.

In Ohio, the state gas tax is 38.5 cents a gallon. The Ohio Department of Transportation said a three-month break from those taxes would amount to $355 million in lost revenue for state-funded projects and an additional $232 million in funds sent to local governments.

Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said he is against suspending the gas tax.

“It would be a major, major blow to our ability to continue to fix highways, continue to fix dangerous intersections, continue to work to save lives, continue to work to make Ohio a state where we can transport goods as well as people,” said DeWine.

ODOT said most, if not all, pending projects would have to be suspended if there’s a break in collecting the gas tax. That would especially include the major projects such as work on the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati; the I-77 improvements in Akron; and the downtown interchange projects in Columbus.

Biden has recommended the gas tax “holiday” to offset the surging prices, which he said is the result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine — carried out by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A White House statement said, “In this unique moment, with gas prices near $5 a gallon on average across the country, President Biden is calling on Congress to suspend the gas tax for three months — until the end of September — to give Americans a little extra breathing room as they deal with the effects of Putin’s war in Ukraine.

Nan Whaley, Democratic nominee for Ohio governor, supported Biden’s call to suspend the gas tax and urged the state to follow along with a six-month suspension of the state’s gas tax.

Whaley did not have an estimate of the cost of suspending the gas tax from July through the end of the year. She did, however, add that necessary road improvements should continue to be funded. Whaley suggested the state use some of the $2.7 billion Rainy Day Fund, or some federal infrastructure funds.

"This is an easy, but important step towards cutting costs for working families. While Mike DeWine tries to score political points and blame others for high gas prices, he’s refused to actually take action that is within his control to help people who are struggling." Whaley said in a written statement. “This shouldn’t be a partisan issue."

In February, 16 of 23 Republicans in the Ohio Senate signed onto a bill to scrap the 10.5 cent gas tax increase that went into effect in 2019 for five years. Democratic lawmakers have yet to voice support for that bill, which has had one hearing.

DeWine — who had bargained for the gas tax increase in his first months in office — has called the idea “a mistake."

Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.