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Idaho Democratic lawmakers propose 'gas tax holiday' to help relieve rising costs

Democrats are calling on Gov. Little to call a special session to consider a pause on the state's 32 cent a gallon tax on gas.

BOISE, Idaho — Sometimes finding the pulse of the people, a big thing everyone seems to be talking about, is pretty easy to find. These days the electronic numbers at the gas station are the big table talker. Just ask Idaho Rep. James Ruchti, who found it easy to hear the voice of the people while out at breakfast in Pocatello.

“I sit close enough to the counter that I can hear what people are talking about at the counter. And this week and last week, it's gas. Gas prices and how much it costs to fill up that gas,” Ruchti said.

AAA reports that the national average for a gallon of gas is $4.95. The average across Idaho is about $5.03. Both averages are up in recent days. So, Democrat Rep. James Ruchti and his colleague Senator David Nelson sent this letter to Governor Little, proposing an idea.

“Senator Nelson and I are proposing that we do a special session. We meet for the sole purpose of considering a gas tax holiday piece of legislation,” Ruchti said.  

A special session can only be called by Governor Little. If he did call a special session in response to the proposal, Ruchti says Democrats only want one bill considered. This bill would essentially pause Idaho’s tax on gasoline for 6 months. The current gas tax in Idaho is 32 cents a gallon, meaning Idahoans would get some relief at the pump.

“It’s a great way to get money back in pockets of Idahaons who are just they're going to go spend it on the economy. You would think of it as a targeted tax break,” Ruchti said.

Idaho’s gas tax goes towards Gem State roads and maintenance, the proposed gas tax holiday would cost the state about $180 million that would go towards that. Ruchti and Nelson point to the state’s budget surplus as a solution to making that fund whole.

“We would just use a small portion of that budget surplus to pay for roads because that's where the gas tax money goes,” Ruchti said.  

Ruchti says a big plus for him in the proposal is the concept that the gas tax will help all Idahoans who fill up the tank.

“The thing I like about this gas tax holiday is, Idaho families of all shapes and sizes are going to be able to use it. Small businesses will benefit, if you have a fleet of cars or even if your employees have to travel the state, this will save your business money,” Ruchti said.  

If Little calls a special session and this draft idea does pass, Ruchti said the concept would take a little time to setup. With no sign of gas prices going back towards the $3.00 mark, the belief is that the tax holiday would still be greatly beneficial. 

“Might take us about three months to figure out how to actually get everything in place before it's implemented. But that's the idea, every time you go fill up a gallon of gas, you're going to save $0.32,” Ruchti said.  

Even with the 32 cent a gallon break, as of Wednesday gas prices would still be in the neighborhood of $4.50. Ruchti says nobody should pretend his proposal is the end all be all fix. But, simply a start.

“I don't pretend that this is the only thing that can be done. But when Idahoans need help, this is a great way to show that government is listening and the Governor can call a special session. I think it'll get bipartisan support because in every district, legislative district throughout Idaho, you've got families that are dealing with this. So, there's a lot of incentive for us to act,” Ruchti said.

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