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Minnesota Opinion: Give us a gas-tax holiday this summer to keep tourists coming

From the editorial: "Our visitors come by car (and in vans, campers, and trucks), and we can’t afford for them not to come. So if knocking 47 cents per gallon off the price of gas ensures they still do this summer, we have to scream out our support."

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Dave Granlund / Cagle Cartoons
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In March, when the creep of gas prices wasn’t all that alarming yet, a Duluth News Tribune editorial called the prospect of a summertime holiday from paying state and federal gas taxes “an intriguing and enticing proposal.”

Three months later — with gas prices heating up along with the weather and with pump prices as high as we’ve ever seen, even soaring past $5 a gallon in some corners of (Minnesota) — a gas-tax holiday is no longer just intriguing or enticing. In Duluth, where the vast majority of 6.7 million annual visitors arrive in gas-powered vehicles, a gas-tax holiday may even be a necessity. Every tourist and family deciding that filling the tank to head toward Lake Superior is just too pricey this summer will mean another painful bite from the local economy-supporting $780 million Duluth enjoys in annual direct economic impact from tourism.

Put more plainly, our visitors come by car (and in vans, campers, and trucks), and we can’t afford for them not to come. So if knocking 47 cents per gallon off the price of gas ensures they still do this summer, we have to scream out our support.

Minnesota Opinion editorial
Minnesota Opinion editorial
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Encouragingly, President Joe Biden said this week that he finally was considering a summertime holiday from the federal 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax.

Discouragingly, “the odds of” a similar holiday from Minnesota’s 28.6 cents-per-gallon state gas tax “happening any time soon are low,” as Forum News Service reported Friday.

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That’s even though DFL lawmakers introduced gas-tax-holiday legislation in February, even though both DFL Gov. Tim Walz and Republican gubernatorial challenger Scott Jensen support a gas-tax holiday for the big-travel weeks ahead through Labor Day, and even though Jensen also supports repealing a state law barring businesses from selling gas cheaper than the state average, which, he said, would boost state gas-tax savings to 25 cents per gallon.

But here’s the rub: The legislative session has already ended for the year, Walz would have to call a special session to get any proposal to his desk, and even if all that happens, state lawmakers likely would prioritize other matters in the special session, like the state’s historic budget surplus, crime, education, tax relief, and a bonding bill for the responsible upkeep of public buildings and amenities.

The Legislature did so little this session, responding to any emergency, even one like record gas prices that’s crippling and devastating to everyday Minnesotans statewide, will be a struggle or worse.

Suspending Minnesota’s gas tax would cost the state $70 million per month, the Jensen campaign pointed out. But for the financial future of our state and all of us who live here and are trying to survive financially here, the state’s record $9.3 billion budget surplus is thankfully there to cover it.

Other states have already taken measures to relieve the pressure on consumers. Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Maryland and New York all have enacted state gas tax holidays, as the Forum News Service story reported Friday.

And no wonder. The average price per gallon of gasoline in Minnesota shot up by around 66% from a year ago, the story stated, citing AAA as its source. In mid-June of last year, the average cost per gallon was around $2.86. This year, it's nearly $4.76 — an unprecedented high for Minnesota.

When DFL House members introduced their bill in February to enact a summer-long gas-tax holiday, legislative Republicans dismissed it as a “gimmick.” They also pointed out how DFLers and Gov. Walz raised the gas tax in the past or tried to.

It’s not a gimmick any longer. A gas-tax holiday would mean real relief that Minnesotans desperately need. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle can seize this opportunity — yet another one — to come together and to work together for the good of the entire state and all us residents. They can do the rare thing and push partisan politics aside in order to do what’s right.

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This Minnesota Opinion editorial is the opinion of the Duluth News Tribune editorial board.

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