Lawmakers on panel see need in freezing the gas tax, even if it's uncomfortable

02/08/2015 06:41 PM

As the price at the pump drops motorists may be celebrating, but many in local and state governments will be watching road project revenue evaporate.

The state Transportation Cabinet estimated a drop of nearly $130 million dollars as tax on gasoline dropped more than four cents a gallon at the start of 2015.

As the revenue declines lawmakers are again talking about “freezing” the gas tax, something that was proposed in the governor’s and House Democratic budgets during the 2014 session.

Republicans balked on the so-called tax increase during the election year and dropped the plan from the Senate budget. With the continued decreases in price at the pump lawmakers again are looking at the prospect of halting the decline.

On Wednesday evening four lawmakers, two House Democrats and two Senate Republicans, told Pure Politics during a panel discussion at the Kentucky Cable Telecommunications Association that they were open to freezing the rate this session.

House Transportation Budget Subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, said Democrats knew the effect the drops would have on counties and cities, but could not have predicted how far prices would fall.

“That’s how we got it passed out of the House,” Combs said.

“Here we are one year later and now it’s being discussed again. We’ve wasted a year. We’ve lost revenue. We shouldn’t be having this discussion.”

Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, said on Wednesday that he was “committed to stabilizing the revenue for the transportation.”

“I think we’ve got to do it,” Hornback said, adding the sides could argue over the blame but that any number of issues could be argued that way.

“I’m committed to doing it. I see where the gas tax has fallen. I know where it’s going to. … We’ve got to stabilize and I think you’ll see us do something on it.”

Sen Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said he “might vote yes” but he’s a reluctant “yes” at this point.

“The majority of the feedback I’ve gotten from constituents in my three counties, from the leadership in my three counties. The fiscal courts in my counties and the citizens who have taken their time to call me — have all wanted me to do it,” he said.

Westerfield said there are a number of good reasons to freeze the gas tax rate, but he was frustrated to be “in this boat.”

Senate members heard testimony Wednesday on the dwindling gas tax, but did not take a vote in committee.


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