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Lawmakers Search For Answers On Gas Tax Dilemma

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Lawmakers keep hearing from frustrated consumers about high fuel costs at the pump and at home. Some want a special session to talk about tax breaks. On Thursday, they listened to experts give their opinions on the dilemma.

With all the fuss over the state's gas tax and where the money flows, House Speaker Jim Black urged lawmakers to find facts in the emotion.

"Look at the big picture," said Black.

Committee members heard from various experts including a petroleum economist who expounded on gas prices and profit. They sifted through reams of statistics that showed how several other states add taxes onto gasoline that North Carolina doesn't. They saw how the gas tax formula that allows millions to be transferred out of the Highway Trust Fund started back in the 1980s.

"That's a real drain on our ability to build roads and our ability to maintain roads," said Sen. Phil Berger (R) of Rockingham County.

Sorting through complex tax information was not so easy for everyone.

"I want to know the number," said Rep. Jeff Barnhart (R) of Cabarrus. "Is it a windfall? Is it not? If it's not a windfall, then the question is -- do we want to return it or cap the tax?"

Still, lawmakers were warned over and over about the implications of cutting the gas tax.

"No one wants to pay taxes that are unnecessary," Ellis Hankins of the N.C. League of Municipalities. "Our membership believes these transportation taxes are necessary and the projects need to be funded."

In addition to the gas tax, lawmakers also discussed home heating costs and efforts to shift money to help out low-income families. The next meeting of the committee hasn't yet been scheduled.

Also, late Thursday, state House and Senate leaders sent a letter to the North Carolina congressional delegation. They are looking for federal help as well.


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