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Several Democrats say tax suspension not enough

Today several Democratic legislators applauded Gov. Sean Parnell’s attempts to hold down fuel costs for Alaskans, but urged the governor to go further, and join their efforts to end fuel price gouging in Alaska. The governor wants to extend the eight cent fuel tax suspension, but the Democrats’ proposal could reduce gasoline costs by as much as 54 cents per gallon.

“Alaskans are paying too much for gas,” said Rep. Pete Petersen (D-Anchorage) who is a sponsor of HB 68 which would prohibit refineries from charging excessive or exorbitant prices.  “The real problem is that Alaska’s two major refineries have no competitors and can charge whatever they want.”

Despite being the nation’s largest oil producer per capita, Alaska gasoline and diesel prices have consistently been the highest in the nation, even when the state tax was suspended for a year.  According to the latest report from AAA, including state taxes, Alaskan gas prices are 63 cents higher than the national average.  The average Alaskan gasoline price is $3.30 per gallon excluding state taxes.  Hawaii, which produces no oil, has the second highest prices at $2.92 per gallon.  In Washington the price is $2.51.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) who sponsors SB 54 said, "A recent nonpartisan report showed Alaskans have been paying about 54 cents per gallon more than the national average, and refiners in Alaska are making twice as much profit as elsewhere.  While rolling back the 8 cent gas tax may help, if we want real change for Alaskans, we must pass a strong anti-price gouging bill."

Separate investigations by the Attorney General, House Judiciary Committee, and the Legislative Research Service have all shown that Alaska’s high prices are caused by abnormally large mark ups charged by Alaska’s refineries.  The Attorney General concluded that there is no real competition between the two refiners, but that Alaska does not have any laws against price gouging.

“Repealing the eight-cent gas tax only addresses the tip of the iceberg,” said Rep. Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage) a sponsor of the House bill.  “The underlying issue is bringing those prices down to be more in line with what families should be paying. "The problem isn't high taxes, the real problem is high prices charged by the refineries."

Also sponsoring the House legislation are Reps. Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks) and Les Gara (D-Anchorage).  The Senate bill is also sponsored by Sens. Johnny Ellis and Hollis French (both D-Anchorage).  The House bill is currently before the House Labor and Commerce Committee, and the Senate bill is in the Senate Finance Committee.



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