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Cost of driving: NY gas tax among the nation's highest

Updated: 05/15/2014 4:27 PM
Created: 05/14/2014 12:33 AM WNYT.com
By: Steve Flamisch

ALBANY – Kevin Donnelly filled his gas tank this week at a cost of $3.85 per gallon, tax included.

The county takes about 14 cents, the federal government takes about 18 cents, and the state takes close to 35 cents per gallon, according to the state Department of Taxation and Finance.

"New York State is hurting every driver that wants to go to work or take their kids anywhere," said Donnelly, of Valatie. "They're really crippling everybody."

The state’s portion of the gas tax is the 10th highest in the country, according to the Department of Taxation and Finance.

When county tax is added, New York rises to number two on the list, according to the American Petroleum Institute. California ranks first, Vermont 16th, Massachusetts 26th, New Jersey 49th, Alaska 50th.

"It's an opportunity for the state to glean a lot of money," said Dana Pickett Sr., of Ravena, "I would like to know where that money goes."

Most of it is going to the state’s Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund, according to the state Division of Budget.

But a recent report by the Office of the State Comptroller found that more than 75 percent of the money in that fund is not used on infrastructure.

"The fund now is primarily devoted to repaying past years’ borrowing and supporting current operating expenses, no longer fulfilling its original mission," the report stated.

The Division of Budget argued the comptroller’s report "misrepresents reality," ignoring capital projects paid out of the general fund and other sources.

And then, there is a question of overhead. The Reason Foundation, a Libertarian think tank, said the state Department of Transportation (DOT) spends too much on administration.

"Interestingly enough, it's less of a 'How much people are taxed' problem than it's, 'How the resources are used,'" said the Reason Foundation’s Baruch Feigenbaum.

DOT contended it "spends taxpayer dollars wisely in maintaining the safety of the state’s bridges and highways, which are heavily punished by harsh winter weather."

But drivers like Kevin Donnelly said the punishment is at the pump. And though oil companies are making the profits, he said the taxes are painful too.

"It’s pretty brutal," Donnelly said.

THRUWAY REVIEW COMING

Tolls are another expense for drivers, but they might not be high enough for the New York State Thruway Authority.

Documents show a $276.1 million difference between the Thruway’s projected and targeted toll revenue in the year 2017.

Thruway spokesman Dan Weiller said there are no toll hikes planned right now, but a task force will convene this year to "look at the revenue needs and how to address them."

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