Gasoline price spike may revisit in winter bills, spring taxes

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:52

    ALBANY, N.Y. — That spike in gasoline prices isn't done with you yet. Government and taxpayer groups say higher gas prices this fall and higher home heating fuel costs this winter will push up tax bills come spring. "The little guy gets crushed," said John Morris, a 51-year-old repair shop owner from Ballston Spa, sharing coffee outside a gas station with a friend. He and Brian Companion, 43, a state electrician from nearby Milton, paid $2.67 a gallon to fill up, or $2.30 a gallon more than when they first started driving. Both said they know the sharp rise in prices is just the beginning. Government and school buses have to run, they figure, so they won't blame them when they see the higher spring tax bills. Morris said even the price of the tires he sells is going up. "Get Bush and Cheney out of the White House," said Morris. He said they have failed to better manage an energy policy because "they're the ones making all the money." "I think they're paying for that war over there," Companion said, "not that I'm for it or against it." Both suggested a nationwide boycott: Everybody stop driving for a day to send a message to the oil producers. But they know it won't happen, and the high cost of fuel will only snowball for months. "The next is home heating oil, and natural gas," said Kelly Jones, spokesman for the Taxpayers Alliance of New York. "They will be the next two shoes to drop," Diesel fuel used in most school buses and municipal trucks and heavy equipment is up about 74 cents to $2.57 a gallon from last year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Gasoline is up to $2.55 nationally, or about 68 cents per gallon more than last year. The cost is even more in some states, including New York. The federal Energy Department says the likelihood of continued price increases for home heating oil this winter is "very high," projected at about 16 percent over last winter's average of $1.83 a gallon. "Our municipal budgets are already very tight with the 10-fold increase in pension costs over the last few years," said Peter Baynes of the New York Conference of Mayors. "Any increase in the spending line is going to be felt in taxes." The historic high prices and projections of higher prices will come just as local governments will draw up 2006 budgets, many of them due Jan. 1. Schools will have to submit their budgets to voters in the spring and they'll have to gamble on a better energy picture for 2006. "The economy is improving a little bit, so I think the counties are hopeful their budgets will improve," said Tom Goodman of the National Association of Counties. "This will just throw another wrench into the process. This may be a little tougher." Not everyone is optimistic. "I think we were all starting to get an inkling of it this spring with prices starting to go up," said Barbara Bradley of the New York State School Boards Association. "But I think in recent weeks we got a massive shock. What people are just starting to talk about is heating costs. That's going to have an effect (on school budgets) as well." School districts had already blamed tax hikes in recent years to relatively smaller increases in energy costs. That eroded reserves that many school districts statewide were just starting to rebuild after facing cuts in state aid and the recession following the 2001 terrorist attacks. Schools can perhaps accelerate plans to buy more efficient buses, but that is a major expense. And reducing bus routes that exclude children living within long walks of schools isn't an option for many school boards or parents, Bradley said.