CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Democrats asked Gov. Jim Justice on Tuesday to call a special session of the Legislature to address temporarily suspending the state’s gasoline tax amid near-record prices at the pump, less than a week after the governor refused their previous request to pause the tax himself.
“Let’s get it done,” Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin of Greenbrier County said during a 40-minute video call with reporters. “Leaders don’t find excuses not to act. Leaders find ways to make it happen.”
According to AAA, the average price of regular unleaded was $4.09 in West Virginia on Tuesday.
A spokesman for the governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to an email requesting comment. Last week, after Democrats initially asked the governor to suspend the tax, Justice issued a nine-paragraph response saying that only the Legislature had the authority to do so. He accused Democrats of grandstanding.
On Tuesday, Democrats said the governor was doing the same thing.
“When people make that whole political stunt argument, they don’t want to talk about the real issue,” Baldwin said. “And the real issue here is really clear: West Virginians are struggling.”
For a 12-gallon fill-up, suspending the state’s 37.5-cent gas tax would save $4.50 if the full reduction is passed on to customers.
“If you are not rich, this is impacting your real life every single day,” Baldwin said. “Your ability to get to and from work. Your ability to get your kids to and from their sports, their activities, their extracurriculars. It affects everything you do if you’re not rich, if you’re living on a fixed income. And let’s be frank: That’s most of us in West Virginia.”
Lawmakers concluded their 60-day regular session earlier this month. Spikes in gas prices in response to inflation and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine occurred at the end of the session, long after the deadline for bills to be introduced and passed out of their originating chamber.
Democrats noted that Maryland, behind a Republican governor, suspended that state’s gas tax last Thursday for 30 days. Georgia lawmakers approved a fuel tax suspension through May, and the governor signed the bill Friday. Florida lawmakers have approved a plan to temporarily suspend the gas tax for one month in October.
West Virginia Democrats said the state currently has a $600 million budget surplus that could easily go higher by the end of the fiscal year in June. Using surplus funds could offset the estimated $35 million loss in revenues from suspending the gas tax, they said.
West Virginia Senate President Craig Blair and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, both Republicans, issued a statement Friday saying that while they support reducing taxes, temporarily eliminating the gas tax makes no guarantee that retailers would lower their pump prices. In addition, it would put bonds for highway projects at risk by jeopardizing the state revenue commitments to pay down those bonds, Blair and Hanshaw said.
While Democrats initially proposed pausing the gas tax for 30 days, some were open to doing it longer. Del. Doug Skaff, a Kanawha County Democrat, said lawmakers could give the governor the power to suspend the tax in 30-day increments as he sees fit.
“If the governor wants to take this issue and run with it, do it. Take credit for it,” Skaff said. “We’ll take a back seat. It’s not about Democrats and Republicans. Yeah, we might have poked at him a little bit to get the conversation started because we’ve been doing nothing. The answer is not to do anything at all. Something needs to be done.”