Rising Gasoline Prices: Motorists Call It Highway Robbery

Soaring gasoline prices have launched an avalanche of requests for the elimination of a series of taxes which have helped increase the cost of a gallon of gasoline by nearly 50 percent during the last 13 months.
One Queens motorist calls it "highway robbery."
Along with these steep price hikes have come a rash of finger-pointing on whom to pin the blame: motorists blame the gas station operators, OPEC nations are blamed for price gouging by the State Department, elected officials point to high city, state, and federal tax laws, and oil producing nations blame the required production of new cleaner-burning reformulated gasoline.
Left unchecked, gasoline prices in Queens threaten to break the $2 per gallon mark by mid-summer. Gasoline prices have surged nearly 40 percent ($1.30 to $1.80) during the 12-month period ending this past April, according to Ralph Bombardier, Executive Director of the Gasoline and Service Dealers Association, which represents 500 Queens gas station operators. During the past month, he said, it has risen to $1.90. Included in this rising equation is the station owners eight-cent per gallon charge to cover expenses.
City Public Advocate Mark Green declared, "Accelerating gas prices have become the biggest new tax on middle-income New Yorkers."
A key to the high pump prices says AAA spokesman Robert Sinclair are seven city, state and federal taxes, ranging from a tiny state .005-cent petroleum test fee to a giant federal 18.4 cent federal excise tax. Combined with five other taxes, these levies make up nearly one-third of the bill you pay at the tank.
Some states have already taken action. In the mid-West, where prices have already zoomed to $2.30 per gallon, Indiana state sales taxes on gasoline have been suspended for 60 days by the governor, and the Illinois state legislature began a special session yesterday to repeal or suspend these taxes as well.
State Senator Toby Stavisky, (D-L-Flushing) who has been campaigning vigorously for a similar suspension, noted that Governor George Pataki had, since May, suspended gasoline sales taxes in New York Thruway gas stations. "In addition," she said, "During the legislative session we phased out the Gross Receipts Tax (GRT) on utilities. Its time to take the next step by reducing the 14-cent GRT on gasoline." She called for renewed efforts to find alternative sources of energy, the use of more fuel efficient vehicles, and reduced gasoline consumption.
Also on the legislative horizon has been last Mondays congressional call for the temporary suspension of the 18.4-cent per gallon Federal Excise Tax if the pump prices exceeds $2 per gallon.
Proclaiming the giant oil companies innocence, American Petroleum Institute officials blame supply problems, low inventories of gasoline, and the June 1st federally-mandated switch to cleaner fuel for smog-prone areas which has added a 60 cent per gallon cost to the price at the pump since April 1999.
Local clean air advocates concerned with Queens high asthma rate have also voiced alarm that Governor George Bush and other Republicans have faulted the Environmental Protection Agency for requiring that areas of the country with the worse smog problem use ethanol-blended gas. This reformulated blend, say the legislators, is adding as much as 25 cents per gallon of gas.
The Federal EPA, however, says that the manufacturers cost of adding the special chemical to the gasoline is one cent per gallon. The higher expenses, say gasoline industry leaders, are generated by the costs of storaging the treated gasoline.
Under the Clean Air Act, enacted by Congress in 1990, gasoline sold after June 1, 2000, in urban areas with smog problems, must contain an additive (oxygenate) to reduce the production of carbon monoxide.
Waiting patiently in a Northern Boulevard Mobil station at a premium test gas pump marked "$1.93.9," Alex Grannas said, "These gas prices are highway robbery."