Consumer Alert: Gas tax holiday explained

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) – My inbox is full. That’s because so many of you have called and emailed with questions and complaints about the gas tax holiday.

And this is the complaint I hear most often: Viewers tell me when they go inside the gas station and ask the clerk a question about why the price is what it is, no one is able to explain it. There’s a reason for that, folks—it’s confusing. And even some folks who’ve been gas station owners for years had to chat with an accountant to get the numbers straight.

We’ve all been there. You fill your tank watching the number multiply, shaking your head in bewilderment. You’re not the only one confused.

"I think it was confusing not only to the consumers but confusing to the dealers as well. When this was instituted we had to consult our accountants; we had to consult New York state," said Bill Adams, President of the New York Association of Service Stations and Repair Shops.

Here’s why. Some counties waived part of the tax; some waived nothing at all, requiring a different calculation depending on where you are.

"The way the tax is computed now is totally different than what we’re used to," said Adams.

I stood outside a Fairport Sunoco station, arms folded, as I chatted with Adams. That’s because I was thinking, “How in the world am I going to explain this clearly and succinctly in a TV news story?”

OK. Here goes: Before June 1, the Monroe County gas tax was 4 percent. That means if gas is 5 bucks a gallon, we paid Monroe County twenty cents per gallon. After June 1, Monroe county capped its tax at 8 cents per gallon. So if gas is five bucks a gallon, your Monroe county gas tax savings is now 12 cents. That’s because 20 cents, the tax before the cap, minus 8 cents is 12 cents. And when you add the state gas tax savings of 16 cents, you’re now saving a total of 28 cents per gallon.

Clear as mud? Yeah, I know.

So you’re likely asking, “If I’m saving 28 cents, why is gas just as high now as it was before June 1?

"From June 1st through yesterday’s closing price, the price, based on Sunoco, because we’re at a Sunoco station, has gone up 23 cents," Adams explained.

Ouch. That means most of that 28-cent savings was wiped away by last week’s wholesale gas price increase. But here’s the question many of you have asked. Because gas station owners set their own prices, how then does the consumer know that you are passing along the full gas tax savings?

Adams answered, "You just have to trust us. We are passing that along."

And we just talked to County Executive Adam Bello on Monday. He says inspectors with weights and measures have been busy making sure that station owners understand the tax change and are applying the savings.

It’s the summer driving season, and it’s good to know the tax rate in the county you’re traveling in. So click here for a handy guide from the NY Department of Taxation and Finance.