FAIRBANKS - State lawmakers are asking the governor to provide tax relief from ballooning energy costs before constituents are shoved into debt by high fuel prices this winter.
With the price of oil hitting $70 a barrel recently, the cost of filling home heating oil tanks, planes and land vehicles has left Alaskans unsure how they will pay for fall subsistence hunting or buy enough diesel oil to heat their homes until spring.
Chief among the proposals was a request for the state to suspend collection of road taxes on motor, boat and aviation fuel by executive order.
The state collects taxes of between 4.7 cents and 8 cents on every gallon of motor fuel sold in Alaska. The state collected $37 million from fuel taxes in 2004. There is no state tax on heating oil.
Lawyers for the state ruled Tuesday that the governor does not have the power to drop the taxes without legislative approval.
After being informed of the ruling, Fairbanks Republican Rep. Jay Ramras, co-chairman of the House Resources Committee, said he would support efforts by the Legislature to take up the issue as soon as possible.
Anchorage Republican Rep. Bob Lynn has asked the governor to consider a proposal to temporarily suspend fuel taxes.
"I'm asking for a suspension of state taxes on gasoline, diesel, marine and aviation gas as long as the price of oil remains over $50 a barrel," he said.
Each additional $1 added to the price of a barrel of oil increases revenue to the state by $65 million, but the budgets of Alaska's families and businesses are suffering.
"We are getting all kinds of money from the high price of oil," Lynn said. "That's good for the state but it's not good for Alaskans trying to fill up their cars to take their children to school."
Becky Hultberg, spokeswoman for Gov. Frank Murkowski, said the governor is open to listening to proposals from legislators, but is focused on calling a special session this fall on the gas line.
Ramras is also looking at other ways to reduce energy costs in the Interior, including efforts to find more sources of firewood on state land.
Ramras has set up a public meeting later this week with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority and representatives of fuel wholesalers and distributors to come up with a loan program to make sure residents' heating oil supplies are not cut off this winter.
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