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Washington state gas tax suspension remains unlikely despite calls from federal government

President Biden urged states to suspend their gas taxes but based on reactions from lawmakers, that's unlikely in Washington state.

SEATTLE — Drivers in western Washington are seeing prices at the pump continue to creep up. At least one Seattle gas station has gas just one cent short of $6 a gallon.

“I’m planning to own an electric car in the future, but at least for the next six months, the bill has gone up 20 to 30%,” said Abhijid Kumar.

Those prices are tough for commuters like Sarah Jackson, who drives from Sammamish to Seattle each day.

“It just keeps going up and keeps getting worse and it’s just eating away parts of my paycheck which is kind of annoying,” Jackson said.

The pain at the pump is why President Joe Biden is pushing Congress to suspend the 18.4% federal gas tax for three months.

“I certainly would like to pay less for gas, but I don’t think it solves much overall," Jackson said. "It’s still going to go up after the 90 days."

Right now, Washington drivers pay a little more than 18 cents a gallon at the pump in federal taxes and 49 cents of each gallon goes to state taxes which fund repairs to roads and bridges. Altogether, Washington drivers pay 67 cents a gallon in federal and state taxes.

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The Biden Administration is also calling on states to suspend their gas tax. Last month, Gov. Jay Inslee said that’s something he was not considering in Washington. 

“We have projects all over the state of Washington,” Inslee said. “The 520 bridge, maintenance, a bunch of these projects would have to stop and we know people don’t want to have more traffic jams in this state.”

The governor’s office reiterated a similar sentiment hours after the president’s announcement Wednesday, saying in part, “The oil companies would be the ones to benefit from suspending the gas tax because it provides another opportunity for them to pocket more profit at the expense of our ability to put people to work fixing our roads and bridges.”

However, a gas tax suspension is something state Senator Simon Sefzik is in favor of.

“I shouldn't have to hear from a single mother who has to choose between being able to take her kid to a soccer game on Saturday and being able to pay the rent,” said Sefzik (R- Whatcom County).

The Republican senator said he knows Biden’s proposal is not a long-term solution and pointed to a bill he proposed in January. The legislation would’ve suspended the state’s gas tax until the end of the year and transferred $1.3 billion from the general fund to the transportation fund to cover the cost of roads and bridges.

Sefzik said he’d come back for an emergency session to vote on a gas tax holiday measure but doesn’t think that’s likely to happen.

“My fear is that this sort of partisan ideology may prevent that from happening, which I think is unfortunate because there's actually sort of a bipartisan consensus that this can work in other states," Sefzik said. "Red states have been able to do this and blue states have been able to successfully suspend their gas taxes."

A spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) said it would be impossible to determine the impacts of a suspension of federal gas tax without specifics as to how the President and Congress would backfill the lost federal revenue.

If the state suspended the gas tax for July, August and September alone, the WSDOT would lose an estimated $140 million a month over the three peak months. The gas tax suspension would also impact Washington's bond ratings and debt limit.

The Biden Administration said the $10 billion cost of the gas tax suspension would be paid for but did not give any new revenue sources.

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