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Gas Tax

QUICK HIT: New Yorkers Are Still Burning Gasoline Like There’s No Tomorrow

Here’s the real cash grab — for everyone, not just drivers.

They're literally driving us crazy.

New Yorkers are using their cars to turn fossil fuel into pollution, congestion and road death at almost the same rates that they were before the pandemic, state gas tax revenue records show.

According to the Department of Taxation, New York State collected more than $35.5 million in revenues from the 16-cent-per-gallon gas tax in March 2020, down just 7.5 percent from the last month before the pandemic. The March 2022 tax revenue was generated from the sale of 221.6 million gallons of gasoline in New York state that month — a quantity of petroleum (as the chart below shows) that's been fairly consistent across a decade, regardless of a pandemic or gas price hikes.

The numbers (which represent state driving and are not broken down by city car use) will sadden anyone who hoped that drivers would not return to the roads in the same numbers after the pandemic — and stand in stark contrast to transit in New York City, whose ridership is roughly 60 percent below what it was before Covid-19 crossed the globe like Thanatos in a shroud.

And fuel use is not likely to decrease, despite the high cost of gasoline, because on June 1, New York State's gas tax holiday kicks in, immediately dropping the price at the pumps by 16 cents per gallon.

"Clearly gas prices are not clearing our roads or our air," said Danny Pearlstein of Riders Alliance. "The upcoming gas tax holiday is an outrageous windfall for oil profiteers from Charles Koch to Vladimir Putin. It's essential to our climate, equity, and public health goals that Gov. Hochul cancel her highway widening projects, slash New York State DOT's huge growth plan, and double down on public transit investment — starting with bus and subway service at least every six minutes."

The consistent amount of driving not only means a consistent amount of road death and congestion, but also a consistent level of pollution. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, burning just one gallon of gas emits 19.6 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent (what the EPA calls "greenhouse gases" today), so in just March 2022 alone, New Yorkers put 4.4 billion pounds of CO2(E) into the air.

It's daunting to think how much work needs to be done to avoid so much pollution. The EPA calculator says that one month's worth of emissions from gas burning would require 535 wind turbines running for a whole year to eliminate or converting 74.6 million incandescent lightbulbs to LEDs (every month!).

And that doesn't include diesel fuel use.

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