Nassau lawmakers agree on partial suspension of sales tax on gasoline; Dems say it's not enough

Scott Eidler

April 17, 2022

Originally published in Newsday on April 17, 2022.

Nassau County legislators unanimously adopted on Monday an emergency law for a partial suspension of the county sales tax on gasoline, opting to temporarily eliminate the tax only on the amount above $3 a gallon.

For example, if the price of gasoline is $4.11, the first $3 per gallon would be taxed at the 4.25% county sales tax rate and the remaining $1.11 would not be taxed. The savings would be about 5 cents per gallon.

"We're taking what we can get now, and we have the opportunity to be able to revisit that later if we can establish we have the funds necessary to do that," said Nassau Legis. Steve Rhoads (R-Bellmore).

Democrats had pushed for taxing only the first $2 of price, resulting in a savings of 9 cents per gallon, aides said.

Nassau Legis. Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview) said, "We have an opportunity here to do more." He said, "We can afford it," he said, citing "robust" sales tax receipts.

"Why give half of a tax cut when we can give a full tax cut," he said.

The bill would be effective immediately or as soon state law allows. It would expire at the end of this year.

The action comes just days after the State Legislature agreed to lop off 16 cents of state taxes per gallon of gasoline and give every county the option of suspending local taxes to help motorists cover skyrocketing costs. That would run from June 1 to Dec. 31.

Blakeman said in his State of the County address that the county would partner with Suffolk Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) on the plan: "All of Long Island will be united in our endeavor to cut the gasoline tax."

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, has set a news conference for Tuesday with Blakeman and McCaffrey to announce a joint plan.

Earlier Monday, in dueling press events, Nassau Democrats called on Blakeman, a Republican, to suspend local sales taxes on gasoline and Blakeman followed, minutes later, by saying Republicans backed the idea and promising to unveil his own gas-tax proposal in the evening.

Blakeman's promise came right after a handful of Democratic state and county legislators promoted an online petition to compel the county to suspend its sales tax on gasoline, which in Nassau is 4.5%. A full suspension would run, based on current gas prices, from about 18 to 22.5 cents per gallon.

“Sign our petition telling Bruce Blakeman he needs to cut the tax on gas we are all buying,” said Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills).

With a Blakeman news conference minutes away, Drucker said: “Now it appears — almost miraculously — the county executive is on board. All I can say is, ‘What took you so long?’”

In Albany, a broad push for tax relief at the gas pump began to gain steam when prices rose past $4 per gallon. Many legislators were pushing for a full suspension of all state and local taxes — which, at current prices, could top 50 cents per gallon.

But when the state budget was settled last week, the Senate, Assembly and Gov. Kathy Hochul suspended 16 of the state’s 33.5 cents per gallon in taxes, from June 1 to Dec. 31. They gave counties the option to suspend local sales taxes, which typically are 4% or more and provide a lucrative source of local tax revenue.

Republicans said they were ahead of Democrats on the issue.

“If they wanted to show leadership, why didn’t they suspend all 34 cents?” said County Comptroller Elaine Phillips, referring to the Democratic-led State Legislature and the full value of state taxes on gas.