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WLNG
April 05, 2006

Pols Pan Gas Tax Repeal



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Call him Commish: Yesterday the county legislature was expected to name Mike Deering Suffolk's new Commissioner of the Department of Environment and Energy. (click for larger version)
It's all about the Benjamins, and there are lots at stake.

Citing a potential loss of millions in much-needed revenue, last week the county legislature's Democrat-dominated budget and finance committee stalled a measure designed to provide Suffolk motorists with relief at the gas pumps.

Sponsored by East End legislators Jay Schneiderman and Ed Romaine, with support from local representatives Senator Ken LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele, the bill asks state lawmakers to give the county the authority to regulate the county gasoline sales tax. Last month the foursome explained that county officials could decide whether to repeal the county portion of sales tax in total, or in part, as has recently been implemented with the tax on home energy sources.

According to figures presented at the March press conference, using an average price of $2.47 per gallon, Suffolk's sales tax share tots up to 19 cents, with the state taking in an additional 23 cents.

As prices soared, so has revenue, especially on the East End where gas runs anywhere from 10 to 30 cents per gallon more than upIsland. East End legislators feel that's just plain unfair. Romaine called it "outrageous" that the county and state reaped windfall profits because of surging prices. The county took in some $8.3 million more than anticipated last year thanks to skyrocketing prices.

Lacking a strategy to offset what County Executive Steve Levy 's reps decried as a potential "gaping hole" in the budget, the bill has been dismissed by opponents as mere "grandstanding." Schneiderman countered that all it does is give county lawmakers the power to regulate the amount of sales tax charged. How the revenue loss would be offset would be determined once the Albany hurdle is cleared.

But county pols don't want the power, Schneiderman's chief of staff Eric Brown surmised. Currently, when faced with constituent outcry, county legislators can point a finger toward Albany. If the state gave local legislators the authority to lower the tax, they might actually have to do it, he said. The majority of the members on the horseshoe, including most of the members of the Republican caucus, don't want to be put in that position. "If they're given the authority to modify the county sales tax on gasoline, people will ask them to and that's a horror of horrors," he said.

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