As the Niagara County Leg debates capping the sales tax on gas purchases, here is a perspective from the Poughkeepsie Journal:
With some Republican state lawmakers clamoring for a suspension of the state's gas sales tax this summer, some counties are taking the opposite approach: lifting what they view as ineffective tax caps.
Onondaga County this month dropped its two-year cap on gas sales taxes after an analysis showed customers were seeing no significant savings at the pump compared to other upstate counties. Other counties made similar choices after the state in 2006 let counties put a cap on taxes collected on gas sales. The cap exempted county sales tax on prices more than $2 per gallon, which was intended to lower costs by 4 cents on a $3 gallon of gas.
At the same time, the state capped its part of the sales tax at 8 cents for gas purchases, which lawmakers say has saved New Yorkers about $450 million a year. Yet Rockland County dropped its county cap late last year and other counties, including Schenectady, Orange and Albany, also abandoned a cap after some determined the savings was simply going back to oil companies. "It is clear that the intended savings for Albany County drivers was a windfall for the oil industry," Albany County Comptroller Michael Conners said in a 2006 report.
Initially, 15 counties capped gas sales taxes, but now it's down to only seven. Officials in one of those, Oswego County, say it is considering dropping the cap when the law expires May 30. "What they found was that by and large they were not able to identify that there was the cost savings directly to the consumer," said Mark LaVigne, spokesman for the state Association of Counties.
Other counties, including Westchester and Monroe, never instituted the cap, in part because they said they didn't want to give up the sales-tax revenue.
But some counties plan to keep the gas-tax cap. Chuck Lafler Jr., chairman of the board of supervisors in Seneca County, said the cap helps keep the county competitive with gas sold cheaper on nearby Indian reservations. Also, truckers stop at the county's rest stop near the state Thruway because gas is slightly less expensive, and that helps the local economy, he said. "If we repeal the tax, I feel more Seneca County residents will feel the pinch," he said. In Onondaga County, though, Executive Joanie Mahoney wants to use the revenue from lifting the cap - about $5 million a year - for property-tax relief.
At the state Capitol, some Republican legislators - with a critical election looming in November - are pursuing the crowd-pleasing proposal of suspending state gas taxes, which are at 32.75 cents a gallon, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
While the move might help drivers amid skyrocketing gas prices, doing so would cost the state between $500 million and $800 million - at a time when it is already reeling from the struggling national economy. But Sen. Andrew Lanza, R-Staten Island, said the gas-tax suspension would make New York's prices competitive with other states and potentially have a positive economic impact.