May 10, 2006

Mine's Better, Sez Alessi

State Assemblyman Mark Alessi of the North Fork says his proposal is better. Several weeks ago, his South Fork counterpart Fred Thiele urged the state to put a cap on the amount of sales tax it collects on gasoline. Last week Alessi sponsored a bill that would remove it altogether.

State Republicans floated the notion first, Thiele said Sunday, but Dems tanked the measure because it would blow too big of a hole in the budget. Last Friday Alessi acknowledged that party colleagues had balked at supporting the sales tax cap. However, since then, the price of gas has spiked even higher. The Republicans' measure "came out early," Alessi said. He believes the idea has ripened — and constituents have angered — enough to convince colleagues to sign on.

While gas pump pain has been the acute symptom, according to Congressman Tim Bishop the failure on the part of the federal government and the Bush administration to craft a meaningful energy policy is the disease. He joined with Alessi last week calling for treatment of both the symptom and the sickness.

Repealing the sales tax on gasoline is, Alessi said, "a small temporary measure." The bigger issue is, he continued, "There's no energy policy coming out of Washington."

Bishop disagreed. An energy policy has emerged from the administration. It's just no good. "We need to throw out that energy policy and craft one that focuses on reducing demand," he said. Priority must be put on becoming more energy independent, he said, adding, "We're never going to be able to drill our way out of this."

Instead, the country needs to investigate the developing and marketing of alternative fuels. "We have to build, market, and make available fuel efficient vehicles in greater supplies than we currently do," he said.

Back in April of 2005, lawmakers debated the administration's first energy bill, which provided $16 billion in subsidies to oil, gas, and coal industries. Bishop proposed taking $5 billion and creating an emerging technologies trust fund to develop and market alternative energy sources. It was defeated. "That's the kind of thing we need to do," he said.

If there is a silver lining to be found in ballooning gas prices, Bishop said, it's that "now people are starting to recognize this really is a crisis." Last week the House of Representatives passed a bill that "gets very tough" on gas price gougers. Bishop noted that he offered the same bill almost a year ago and it was defeated. "What we just did was a good thing, but we could have done it eight months ago," he said.

Thiele meanwhile is looking at undoing something the state did back in the 1990s. Responding to a fiscal crisis, the Cuomo administration state lawmakers imposed the sales tax on gas, setting up a formula that Thiele says results in taxing a tax. The federal government and the state both collect excise tax on gas.

Both those taxes are added to the cost of gasoline and then the state charges sales tax on top. He's sponsoring a bill to undo the double taxing. This week Legislator Jay Schneiderman said he'd sponsor a bill before the county legislature in support of Thiele's measure.

Additionally, Thiele noted that Alessi's proposal may remove the sales tax, but it adds an extra 25% corporate franchise tax as well as an excise tax of eight cents per gallon. Thiele took a dim view of the additions.

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