It was a dizzying morning at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola.
At 10:30 a.m. on April 11, State Senators Anna Kaplan, Jim Gaughran and John Brooks, State Assemblymember Chuck Lavine, as well as members of the Nassau County Legislature were joined by fed-up drivers to call on Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman to cut the county gas tax. The press conference followed the cut of state gas tax by 16 cents per gallon, as well as a month of the Nassau County Legislature Democratic Minority Caucus calling on Blakeman to cut the gas tax.
“We’re all elected,” Kaplan said. “We represent the same people. It is really incumbent on us to work together to make sure we provide relief for all of our residents and that’s what we’re here doing today.”
During the press conference, Nassau County Legislator Arnie Drucker had announced a resolution that would cut the county sales tax on gas, but he noted that in order to bring the measure up to vote, it would need support from Blakeman and the Legislature’s Majority leader.
“I’m hopeful that the county executive is hearing the outcry of our residents that some relief has to be given to them immediately,” Drucker said. “This is not political. This is the right thing to do… the state has taken the courageous course and has cut the state gas tax and now the county has to do it.”
The gas tax relief passed by the state included a provision that allows county governments to cut their own gas taxes.
“My hope is that our county officials will follow us and do this,” Gaughran said. “There’s absolutely no reason for them not to do it. So I’m hopeful… This problem is going to get worse because of the situation in Ukraine and the sanctions that are being proposed. Gas is going to go up.”
Almost immediately after the press conference wrapped up, the Ceremonial Chamber upstairs was opened up to the press for a press conference held by Blakeman, legislative leaders, as well as Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena, Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino, Town of Hempstead Councilman Anthony D.Esposito and County Comptroller Elaine Phillips.
Blakeman opened up the press conference, with the support of the Republican Majority, by calling on the Nassau County Legislature to hold a special session right after the State of the County Address that evening to take up the issue of cutting county gas tax.
“We are in the process, as we have been for the last two weeks, to look at all the fiscal implications of doing so,” Blakeman said. “We have been crunching numbers and working together. I have consulted with Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello and the members of the legislature. I have discussed this immensely with the three towns who share in the gas tax revenue and we are here today in unified voices to say we will take action immediately to reduce the gas tax on families, middle class families, in the county and those who are living on the poverty level or below the poverty level, to give them some relief.”
Blakeman then blamed the issue of high gas prices on policies coming from Washington D.C. and Albany.
“Canceling the [Keystone] XL Pipeline, not fracking in New York State even though we have more natural gas than most states in the Union, policies that have stopped drilling here in the United States, restricting the amount of oil and gasoline that is available to the public: putting us in a precarious and dangerous situation…and that’s why we are here,” Blakeman said. “And with respect to the gas tax, I would remind you that one of the reasons why we share in the gas tax as a county is this is one of the few states in America where the state charges the counties for Medicaid.”
The gas tax serves as “peanuts,” Blakeman said to offset the Medicaid “burden.”
“What you saw downstairs just now is probably the most perfect examples you’ll see of hypocrisy,” Nassau County Legislator Steve Rhoads said. “Because while the Democrats downstairs are talking about getting residents back pennies in the sense of gas tax on a gallon of gasoline, they have costed us residents more over and over again. In the last two years alone, the New York State budget has increased by $34 billion, an 18 percent increase. While they’re standing downstairs here in Mineola, instead of being up in Albany where they’re supposed to be, we’re here working.”
To add to the blow-back against the state officials downstairs, Phillips said that if the state “really wanted to show relief,” they would cut all 33 to 34 cents per gallon instead of just the 16 cents.
Since early March, the Minority Caucus’ calls on the county executive and the Legislature’s Republican Majority to cut the county gas tax has highlighted a sense of division among Nassau County’s officials.
“Last week, we proposed a straightforward way for Nassau County to ease the squeeze that residents are currently feeling at the pump,” Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams said on March 15. “County Executive Blakeman and the Republican Majority are offering no solutions-just the usual assortment of finger-pointing, deflection, and political propaganda. While parroting oil company talking points won’t do a thing to help Nassau residents make ends meet, suspending Nassau’s share of the sales tax on gasoline will. The members of the Minority Caucus remain committed to fighting for the relief that consumers need.”
During the emergency nighttime session on April 11, the Republican Majority passed a gas tax reduction of five cents per gallon instead of the nine cents proposed by the Minority Caucus.
“This morning, after the Minority Caucus filed legislation this morning to deliver the maximum local gas tax cut allowable under New York State law–one that would have saved motorists about nine cents per gallon-County Executive Blakeman and the Majority excoriated us and the state for not doing enough for Nassau taxpayers,” Abrahams said on April 11. “Then, under the cover of night, the Majority passed a cut amounting to just five cents per gallon–45 percent less than what we proposed.”
The following morning, Blakeman and Rhoads appeared at a press conference with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone that announced a cap on Suffolk County sales tax on gas. According to the press conference, the two county executives have been working together to address this issue regionally.
“Just about 48 hours ago I read something online that Steve Bellone and [Suffolk County Legislator] Kevin McCaffrey were going to recommend a $3 cap,” Blakeman said. “I went back to my budget people and we felt that it was the most reasonable thing to do because it brings us back to 2020 levels and that it was something that was meaningful but at the same time it wouldn’t impact in a negative way on our budget.”
The gas tax cap will go into effect starting June 1 and will only impact gas prices over $3.