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Editorial: Gasoline tax cut will cost a pretty penny

From The Dominion Post of Morgantown:

This tax cut is going to turn up as a sight more than just a bad penny.

Indeed, the state Tax Department estimates it will turn up as about $49 million less in the state’s Road Fund in 2017.

On Jan. 1, drivers across West Virginia began paying a penny less tax on a gallon of gasoline (motor fuels).

West Virginia taxes gasoline two ways — with a flat 20.5 cent a gallon tax and a 5 percent tax on the wholesale price of fuel, which is recalculated yearly based on the average price from the previous year.

The state tax imposed on a gallon of motor fuel dropped from 33.2 cents to 32.2 cents Sunday. This marks the third straight year for a decrease in West Virginia’s motor fuel tax following a peak 35.7 cents per gallon rate in 2014.

By the way, our state looks to be a penny pincher at the gas pump compared to Pennsylvania, which boasts the top gas tax in the nation, at 50.4 cents a gallon.

Though Kentucky’s, Maryland’s and Ohio’s gas tax is lower — 26 cents, 27 cents and 28 cents, respectively.

According to the state Tax Department’s news release, “The state’s tax rate will be less than 2 cents per gallon above the weighted national average as determined by the American Petroleum Institute.”

The federal government levies a gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon — unchanged since 1993.

While this tax cut puts a $49 million hole in the state Road Fund’s collections it will put about $28 in savings for the year in someone’s pocket who drives 20,000 miles with a fuel efficiency of 25 mpg.

Simply speaking, $49 million is real money while $28 might cover tickets to see “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and a tub of popcorn on a weekend.

Nothing against the cinema or a night out, but the job of maintaining our state’s vast universe of more than 35,000 miles of roads remains the premier issue still facing our state in the 21st century.

The state’s Division of Highways total roads budget is about $1.1 billion, estimated to be about $750,000 short of what’s needed to just keep up with maintenance and repairs at the current rate. Never mind any new roads or bridges in the near or far-flung future.

No, this $49 million is not going to bring our roads up to snuff and turn our state into a tourist mecca.

What it will do though is pay for about 500 miles of repaving this summer, at about $100,000 a mile, or replace a few dozen or so small bridges.

The Legislature and Gov.-elect Jim Justice should rescind this tax cut or ensure this lost revenue is replaced from other accounts or sources.

We’re not opposed to tax cuts, but if it means resigning ourselves to even worse roads to pinch pennies, we can live without this one.

After all, it’s going to cost far more than a pretty penny.

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