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With gas prices over $4, Shapiro promises a gas rebate if elected Pennsylvania's governor

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro made a gubernatorial campaign stop at a home in Forest Hills Friday.
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro made a gubernatorial campaign stop at a home in Forest Hills Friday.

Pittsburgh gas prices hit an all-time high this month, and many residents are still feeling the effects of sticker shock at the pump and the grocery store. At a campaign event in Pittsburgh Friday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro laid out a plan to offer taxpayers relief if he becomes governor.

The first part of the Democrat’s platform would grant Pennsylvania drivers a gas tax refund. The plan allows for $250 per personal passenger vehicle up to four vehicles per household. The one-time payment would be covered by unspent dollars from the American Rescue Plan.

The plan would not change the state’s gas tax, which is the highest at nearly 59 cents per gallon in the nation. Republican gubernatorial candidates have called for slashing the gas tax. Republican Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, also running for governor, announced earlier this month he will introduce legislation that would gut the gas tax nearly in half.

But Shapiro, the only Democrat running for governor, said Friday cutting the tax only helps oil companies and threatens critical infrastructure funding. Pennsylvania’s gas tax also supports the state police.

“Two months after the Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed, their first proposal is to cut funding from infrastructure and defund the state police,” Shapiro said. “That is unacceptable to me.”

Corman’s plan would use $500 million in federal relief money to fund the state police and require PennDOT to issue a $650 million bond to fund infrastructure projects while the gas tax is reduced.

Shapiro’s rebate would be a one-time payment, Shapiro said. “But if we need to do it again and again, we will.”

Shapiro argued proposals to reduce the gas tax assume that oil companies will pass savings onto consumers. But he said other states that have cut gas taxes had not seen that.

When asked if the Attorney General’s office is investigating whether oil companies are price gouging American consumers, Shapiro said he no longer has the authority to do that.

“As Attorney General, I did have the authority to investigate price gouging,” he said. “The problem is, the legislature took away that authority from me.”

A Republican-backed state constitutional amendment passed by voters last year ended the governor’s COVID-19 emergency disaster declaration. According to Pennsylvania law, that also dissolved Shapiro’s authority to hold companies accountable for price gouging.

“I find it somewhat ironic that Republican lawmakers keep calling on me to investigate price gouging when they led the effort to take away our authority,” he said.

The Attorney General was joined Friday by two local moms who said they’ve been burdened by increasing prices everywhere, particularly at the pump.

“Whether it’s sporting tournaments or whether we’re trying to get our kids to play practice, or whatever it is, we want to make sure that we’re able to do that and not have to put all of our funds in the gas tank,” said Katie Pope, who lives with her family in Squirrel Hill.

Shapiro said he would also eliminate the state’s gross receipt and sales tax on cell phones, which he claimed could save taxpayers about 11% on their monthly bill. South Park resident Sara-Summer Oliphant said that would provide relief for her family, which includes four teenagers.

“I’ve done my homework. I’ve shopped around for plans, trying to find the best deal,” she said. “Our cell phone bill is our single highest monthly bill we have coming in.”

Shapiro also unveiled a plan to expand the state’s property tax and rent rebate program to make 275,000 more Pennsylvanians eligible to apply. Currently, the program is available to renters who make below $15,000 and homeowners who make below $35,000. Shapiro’s plan would raise the cap to $30,000 for renters and $50,000 for homeowners.

Shapiro challenged the state legislature to pass his plan as soon as possible. Still, he said he “will be prepared on day one of the Shapiro administration to act and put money back in the pockets of Pennsylvanians.”

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.