RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Democrats are proposing an alternative plan to give Virginians relief from high gas prices.
According to House Democratic Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, lawmakers will propose sending one-time payments of $50 to every car owner in Virginia and up to $100 per household, excluding electric vehicles.
If the plan is approved by the politically divided legislature, Filler-Corn said it’s not yet clear how soon Virginians could get the rebates but the goal would be to get them out immediately using checks, debit cards or direct deposits.
Filler-Corn’s office estimates it would cost the state up to $140 million, but possibly less, based on data from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. She said her preference would be to use federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to cover the cost. Alternatively, she said the money could come from the General Fund.
Filler-Corn said the plan would provide direct relief to each consumer–equivalent to roughly 12 gallons of free gas or 200 gallons of gas tax savings–at less than one-third of the cost of the plan proposed by Governor Glenn Youngkin.
“His plan will help out-of-state drivers and oil companies. That’s not what we want to do. Our plan is going to get money in the pockets of Virginians now so we need to take action,” Filler-Corn said in an interview on Friday.
Governor Youngkin announced emergency legislation of his own aimed at saving consumers money at the pump. If passed, the proposal would suspend the state’s Motor Vehicle Fuels Tax for gas distributors, which is 26.2 cents per gallon for gasoline and 27 cents for diesel, for three months beginning in May. It would then be phased back in throughout August and September, according to Youngkin.
“With gas prices and inflation squeezing families’ pocketbooks across Virginia and the nation and with over $1 billion in unanticipated revenue in our transportation fund, the general assembly must act now. Virginia should join numerous other states, led by both Republicans and Democrats, in temporarily suspending the gas tax,” Youngkin said in a statement earlier this week.
Youngkin’s legislation is expected to be voted on during a special session that got off to a slow start on Monday. Lawmakers have left Richmond and there is no set date for the bill to be heard at this point.
Filler-Corn’s office said their proposal will be introduced as a substitute to Youngkin’s bill in committee.
The Republican majority in the House of Delegates is already pushing back.
Delegate Michael Webert, who sponsored a now-sidelined plan to suspend a recent gas tax increase, thinks Youngkin’s proposal will provide more relief long-term for a larger group.
“The one time payment to a household does not help the many, many, many small businesses that rely on fuel to provide us with the means of comfort whether it be food or the delivery of goods to our houses,” Webert said.
Youngkin’s proposal has drawn pushback from many Democrats who argue it will have a negative impact on transportation funding and result in uncertain savings for consumers since the gas tax is levied on distributors. Youngkin acknowledged in a recent interview that the legislation would not guarantee relief to consumers.
“Governor Youngkin’s plan is riddled with holes that will do lasting harm to Virginia and the people who live here,” said Democratic Caucus Chair Charniele Herring in a press release.
The Governor estimated his plan would cost $437 million. Youngkin said it would come out of the Commonwealth Transportation Fund, which he says has more than $1 billion in “unanticipated revenue.”
In a statement on Friday, Youngkin’s spokesperson Macaulay Porter said, “The governor appreciates that Democrats are finally realizing the impact rising costs are having on Virginians, but their new brainchild does nothing to lower gas prices and is ripe for fraud. Just yesterday even New York Democrats confirmed a gas tax holiday is the best way to deliver lower prices at the pump immediately. If Democrats in Virginia were serious about helping Virginians they’d suspend the gas tax and also deliver the billions in tax relief Virginia veterans, workers and families deserve.”
While both sides have been hesitant to embrace the other’s approach, they aren’t ruling out a bipartisan solution.
Asked if she’s committed to opposing the gas tax suspension if her proposal for direct payments fails, Filler-Corn said, “We’re going to have discussions and conversations but the bottom line is we need to focus on how to get money for Virginians.”
Webert said he would support both direct payments and a gas tax suspension if there is enough money.
Asked if Republicans would vote for rebates if it’s the only remaining option, Webert said, “I’m sure but, again, the Senate Democrats aren’t even looking at the other side.”