Sunday, May 2, 2004

Bill would defer gas tax hike

Funds needed for projects, state counters

By Amy McCullough
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - A state lawmaker wants to ease Ohioans' gas pains.

Rep. Timothy Grendell, R-Chesterland, is pushing a bill that would postpone for a year a 2-cent increase in the state gas tax that is scheduled to take effect July 1.

The bill gets its first hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday.

"I know Ohioans are feeling nickeled and dimed to death on taxes," he said. "It may be just 2 cents, but it may be the 2 cents that breaks the camel's back."

The Legislature last year approved an increase in the state gas tax by 6 cents over three years. The first 2-cent increase occurred last July 1.

During the past year, Cincinnati prices for regular unleaded gasoline have climbed 36 cents from about $1.44 a gallon in April 2003 to $1.80 on Wednesday, according to the American Automobile Association.

The price increase is making some Cincinnati-area residents cut back on driving.

"We don't go out as much. We just do school, work and we try to combine our errands," said Dana Jackson, a 28-year-old Bethel resident who was filling up her car at a Shell gas station on Ohio Pike in Withamsville.

Jackson said gas prices are "ridiculous."

"It's hard for the average person to pay for the gas," she said.

Grendell said his proposal was inspired by President Bush, who opposed a proposed federal 5-cent gas tax increase discussed last month.

"If saving a nickel for the feds makes sense, deferring 2 cents for Ohio makes sense," Grendell said.

But the Ohio Department of Transportation disagrees. The 2-cent increase would generate about $126 million and provide about 6,000 construction-related jobs, said Brian Cunningham, ODOT spokesman.

Cunningham said that, although he understands the intent of the bill, the overall cost outweighs any individual benefits.

"Funding will help to generate a great deal more economic opportunities," he said.

The bill proposes only to postpone the taxes. But Cunningham said even that would disrupt construction plans already in the works.

Grendell said he will push the bill even if prices start going back down. But it's not clear whether he will succeed.

House Speaker Larry Householder hasn't taken a stand on the bill. Neither has Sally Conway Kilbane, R-Rocky River, chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Ohio prices

Prices reflect average regular unleaded gas prices per gallon on April 30 this year and last.



Cincinnati   $1.79  $1.41.
Cleveland    $1.82  $1.41
Columbus   $1.82  $1.41
Dayton   $1.82  $1.42

Source: American Automobile Association

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