Katrina, Gas Prices Could Hurt State’s Highway Jobs

Sat September 24, 2005 - Midwest Edition

COLUMBUS (AP) State officials are closely watching collection of the gasoline tax in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina, but they haven’t cut any highway projects the tax funds, a transportation spokeswoman said.

The state has not gauged collections of the 28-cents-a-gallon tax for September, said Lindsay Mendicino, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Transportation. However, vehicle miles traveled were down 10 percent over the Labor Day weekend from the same period a year ago, she said.

Skyrocketing gas prices have Gov. Bob Taft concerned that the state won’t be able to repair and build roads and bridges at the level that has been budgeted.

“The issue…is whether we’re going to have enough gas tax coming in to support our projects that we already have under way,” Taft said. “There definitely will be an impact on gas tax revenues as people drive more efficiently and purchase fewer gallons of gasoline because of the price.”

Vehicle miles were down 1.5 percent in July from July 2004, Mendicino said.

“It’s not a big deal. What could be a big deal is if we’re down 1.5 percent to 2 percent for a few months,” she said.

Gasoline topped $3 a gallon around the nation after Hurricane Katrina knocked out several pumping and refining operations in and along the Gulf of Mexico. The American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative organization of state lawmakers, has urged states to temporarily repeal gasoline taxes to help consumers.

But Taft said that besides hurting highway construction, there’s no guarantee retailers would lower prices at the pump by a similar amount.