Tyler Sipe, Deseret Morning News
James Ohman of Salt Lake puts gasoline in his truck Friday afternoon in Salt Lake City. It takes Ohman between $50 and $55 to fill his truck.

Any possibility of suspending the state tax on gas, which Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. pointed to Thursday as a way to ease pains at pump, may get buried under a whopping revenue loss, local government needs and questions about the actual benefit for consumers.

Huntsman was responding Thursday to reporters who noted Nevada and other states were looking into placing a temporary moratorium on collection of their gas taxes.

"I'm open to any option that would alleviate the burden that is now being carried by so many consumers in the form of high gas prices," said Huntsman, who was quoted by KCPW Radio. "It's not right for consumers and something's got to be done about it."

Later in the day, Huntsman's spokeswoman Tammy Kikuchi clarified that the governor was only speaking in the larger sense of helping consumers any way possible and that any proposal involving the gas tax "would have to be weighed against the costs, which would be more than $1 million a day."

For legislative leaders, the proposal has only been recently discussed, even with escalating gas prices and a record-setting state budget surplus. House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, said that the biggest problem with even a temporary suspension of the 24.5 cent per gallon tax is the cost to the state, which could approach $40 million a month.

Additionally, the distribution of the gas tax would pose problems, since 25 percent of it goes to local governments, who would be even harder pressed to absorb the projected $10 million in lost revenue. The state's share, meanwhile, is dedicated to transportation, and a $30 million loss would equal the amount of one-time transportation funding that the legislature budgeted during the last general session after extensive debates.

"It's easy to say I support this, but there are some big questions," Curtis said.

Suspending the gas tax anytime before the end of the year would require a special session, which would have to be called by Huntsman. If that did happen, Curtis said he hoped it would be more comprehensive than simply suspending the tax, however.

"If we're going to do it in a special session, I want to be able to weigh it in balance to other issues," Curtis said. "I don't want us to be considering it in a vacuum because it's the crisis of the moment."

Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, said repealing the gas tax for a month or more may sound appealing but might not work for consumers.

"How serious are we about this proposal? It's very early on in the discussion," Valentine told The Associated Press. "There are a number of issues that have to get resolved before we can do it. How do you make certain the 24.5 cents — that it actually gets down to the consumer, or gets lost in the system? It would be hard to tell that because the market is so volatile now . . . we're not saying 'no' at this point, but we want to put a pencil to it."


Contributing: Associated Press


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