Suspending Gasoline Tax Considered By Colorado Lawmakers

Denver (AP) While at least one state has suspended its gas taxes to give drivers a break as prices hover near $3 a gallon, Colorado political leaders said Tuesday they must weigh the benefits against the blow to an already cash-strapped state budget.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue has imposed a monthlong moratorium on gas taxes and sanctions against gas stations that gouge customers. Prices shot up as high as $6 a gallon there last week after Hurricane Katrina disrupted Gulf Coast production and pipeline operations.

In Colorado, another record was set when the statewide average price of a gallon of regular unleaded rose to $3.06 Tuesday. "Gov. Owens is keeping an eye on gas prices," spokesman Dan Hopkins said. The price in Denver increased to $3.02 from Monday's $3.01, but dropped slightly in other parts of Colorado, according to AAA Colorado.

Hopkins said Owens likely could suspend the state gas tax by executive order, but would talk to legislators before making such a move. The tax of 22 cents a gallon raised about $438.5 million for the budget year that ended June 30. The revenue finances the State Patrol and highway construction, maintenance and repairs.

"To suspend (the tax) could seriously impact those kinds of services," Hopkins said. Because Colorado has a flat gas tax, the impact of rising costs is less than in states where the tax is a percentage, he added.

Democratic leaders said they were also concerned about the potential fiscal fallout if the state gas tax were lifted. An economic slump coupled with voter-imposed limits on taxing and spending have forced the Legislature to juggle funds and cut programs the last several years.

House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, said while temporarily lifting the state tax is an option, there would be consequences for state and local services. He said lawmakers are reviewing what other states are doing, whether price gouging is occurring and how the state can encourage more renewable energy production.

"This has got be breaking people," Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden said of the high gas prices.

At the same time, Fitz-Gerald said, the state is scrambling "to keep the doors open and pay the bills."

Fitz-Gerald and Romanoff said their constituents aren't complaining about gas prices right now; they're asking how they can help the hurricane victims.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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