Business, Government, Latest News, State Government, West Virginia Legislature

Justice won’t call special session for gas tax holiday; GOP opposition makes it ‘dead on arrival’

MORGANTOWN — Gov. Jim Justice has squelched the possibility of a special session to take up a gas tax holiday.

“This situation is dead on arrival,” he said during his Wednesday briefing.

When legislative Democrats first issued the call for a holiday in March, he said, he thought they were grandstanding, and still does.

But with gas prices reaching new record highs every day, he decided to reconsider.

According to AAA, the statewide average gas price has climbed roughly 10 cents per gallon per day since Monday: $4.63 on Monday, $4.74 on Tuesday, and $4.83 on Wednesday. Calhoun County had the highest average price on Wednesday, at $5.09.

“Its a different animal right now today than it was” in March, he said. “Today it’s hurting.”

But, he said, “I didn’t think it was a good idea before. And to be perfectly honest, I still don’t think it’s a good idea.”

On March 18, in response to the Democrats’ call, the Senate president and House speaker issued a joint statement opposing the idea, and said on Tuesday they still hold to that view.

Justice said Wednesday he hadn’t heard from the legislative majority but now knows they have no interest in considering a gas tax holiday bill.

So calling a special session during next week’s interim meetings would be a waste of time and money, he said. “It’s dead, its gone, that’s all there is to it.”

Justice stated a couple reasons he opposes it. One, he doesn’t want to subject federal COVID money (in the surplus budget) to claw back. Two, the money would be better spent on roads, which offers long-term benefits over the short-term advantages of a brief tax cut.

“We’ve got to really mind the store,” he said.

Justice laid the blame for the fuel price hikes at the foot of the “absolute out-of-control administration” in D.C. President Biden took an anti-coal and anti-gas stance at the start of his administration, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine worsened the problem.

Research for an upcoming story on energy prices indicates that along with Biden administration domestic energy polices, other factors contributing to the hikes include inadequate domestic refining capacity and global supply and demand tied to the Ukraine war.

Justice said that while he opposes the gas tax holiday, he’s open to ideas to help the people of the state.

Justice dismissed any idea of taking action on his own via executive order, saying it’s the Legislature’s job to appropriate money.

Legislative Democratic leaders responded to Justice’s decision.

Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, said, “I’m disappointed that we can’t come together to provide tax relief for West Virginians. … A gas tax holiday would save folks $7 each trip to the pump. … To sit on $1.1 billion in Charleston while West Virginia families make sacrifices is just plain wrong.”

Baldwin again suggested the possibility of a rebate instead of a tax holiday. “The Governor did not acknowledge that policy proposal.”

While Justice wants to use the money for roads, Baldwin said, he’s not proposed a Road Fund supplement. In fact, the fund is $10 million below estimate because people aren’t driving as much.

“Enacting a gas tax holiday would contribute more money to the Road Fund than it’s receiving now.”

House Minority Whip Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, said, “West Virginians are struggling because of this gas crisis and this tax break is crucial to providing them relief. It’s a shame Gov. Justice and Republicans rush to provide tax breaks to out-of-state corporations and won’t do the same for those actually living and working here.”

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp