Suspend federal gas tax to fight rising prices, Whitmer and other governors urge

Craig Mauger Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and five other governors called on congressional leaders Tuesday to suspend the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon until the end of the year to combat rising prices at the pump.

The letter came a day after the national average price of gas in the U.S. surpassed 2008's record, hitting its highest point in more than a decade.

"At a time when people are directly impacted by rising prices on everyday goods, a federal gas tax holiday is a tool in the toolbox to reduce costs for Americans, and we urge you to give every consideration to this proposed legislation," Whitmer and the other governors wrote in their message.

On Tuesday, Michigan's average price for regular gas was $4.18 a gallon, up from $3.57 a week earlier, according to tracking by AAA.

The governors argued the move to suspend the federal gas tax was necessary "to relieve Americans of the financial stress caused by increased gas prices amid international crises and rising inflation."

In addition to Whitmer, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed the letter. All six are Democrats.

Their letter was addressed to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California; House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California; Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York; and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.

The governors specifically mentioned legislation co-sponsored by three Michigan lawmakers: U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing; Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly; and Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint.

The Gas Prices Relief Act would alleviate the cost of rising gas prices while protecting the federal government’s capacity to make infrastructure investments, the governors said in their letter. The proposal would authorize the U.S. Department of Treasury to transfer general fund dollars to replace the temporarily lost revenue, the letter said.

Republicans have criticized the legislation as a political gimmick aimed at improving Democrats' chances in the midterm elections, signaling the idea may face difficulty in the evenly split Senate. Whitmer is up for reelection in November, while Slotkin and Kildee are expected to face potentially tough re-election battles in new congressional districts in the fall. 

Michigan's state-level gas tax is 27.2 cents per gallon. Last week, Republican gubernatorial candidate James Craig called on Whitmer to "pause" Michigan’s gas tax to "provide families relief as prices soar at the pump."

The state's financial surpluses provide room in the budget to handle the gas tax pause, argued Craig, the former Detroit police chief. 

Preya Samsundar, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, criticized Whitmer's letter, tying it to the governor's efforts to close Enbridge's Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac. 

Michigan families and businesses would spend $1.8 billion to $2.2 billion a year more on gasoline and diesel should Line 5 be shut down, according to one study released last week by the Consumers Energy Alliance that was based on price effects from past refinery shutdowns. But some projections estimate a small impact.

"Gretchen Whitmer’s posturing about a federal gas tax holiday is a slap in the face to Michiganders who live under the constant threat of rising energy prices as a result of her campaign to shut down Line 5," Samsundar said.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, tweeted Tuesday that if Whitmer wanted to help Michigan residents struggling with high gas prices and inflation, she would sign a $2.5 billion tax cut proposal the Legislature sent her last week. The governor has labeled the legislation "fiscally irresponsible."

Oil prices have jumped as U.S. policymakers consider halting imports of Russian fuel after Russia's military invaded neighboring Ukraine. The increases also come at the start of the typical seasonal rise in gasoline prices as refineries switch to the more expensive summer blend, and travel begins to ramp up.

Asked about waiving gasoline taxes Tuesday, President Joe Biden's press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters "a range of options" were on the table, including encouraging oil companies to increase their production.

Staff Writer Jordyn Grzelewski contributed.