Senate’s post-midnight recess means state gas tax cap expires

The N.C. Senate adjourned in the wee hours this morning, holding a post-midnight procedural session in order to send themselves home from a special called session that started at 8 p.m. on Sunday. In abeyance as the Senate members scattered was the proposal to continue the current cap of 35-cents per gallon on the state’s motor fuels tax, which will otherwise be recalculated on Jan. 1 with an expected 4-cent increase per gallon. North Carolina currently ranks in the top 10 highest states for motor fuel taxes.

The House, headed back into session at noon today, had agreed yesterday to hold the cap through the June 30 automatic recalculation. Another recalculation takes place on July 1 of each year. HB 645 (Motor Fuel Excise Tax Adjustment and Studies; WNC co-sponsor: Rep. Tim Moffitt, Republican, Buncombe County) passed second reading on a 96-23 vote, and is expected to pass the third and final reading today. But without Senate approval, the bill dies and prices are expected to rise at the pump in January.

The money from the tax is used to pay for state infrastructure needs such as road resurfacing and bridge replacement, so legislators were at odds over keeping the tax cap or allowing its expiration to channel money to the Department of Transportation. According to an article in Wilmington’s Star News (click here), Republican Senate leader Phil Berger expressed concern that keeping the cap in place would mean Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, would be the person making decisions about which projects got delayed if the cap stayed in place. He wants the Senate to examine the gasoline tax next May in the regular budget-adjustment session. Keeping the cap would have meant a loss of around $95 million — the equivalent of approximately 72 bridge repairs and 400 miles of road resurfacing in the next six months, according to Jim Trogdon, chief operating officer of DOT (as quoted in the Star News.)

In other action, the Senate ratified SB 9 (No Discriminatory Purpose in Death Penalty) yesterday, repealing what many considered landmark legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2009 (see “Downhill From Here,” Nov. 27 Xpress)). The bill now goes to the governor, who may decide to veto it.

Unfinished business listed on the House calendar for today includes the potential reconsideration of several vetoed bills: HB 7 (Community Colleges/Opt Out of Federal Loan Program), HB 351 (Restore Confidence in Government, otherwise known as the Voter Photo ID bill), HB 482 (Water Supply Lines/Water Violation Waivers), SB 709 (Energy Jobs Act) and SB 727 (No Dues Checkoff for School Employees). The Legislature’s next scheduled special session is slated for February.

Nelda Holder, contributing editor

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