Is a Gas Tax Holiday on the Agenda in Albany?

Gasoline prices have been on a lot of people’s minds in the last few weeks — even those who don’t drive have watched the figures on service station signs climb in the weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine. Today we’ll look at the prospects for a gas tax holiday in New York and at a brief but intense push in New Jersey to let drivers pump their own fuel at gas stations.

Credit…Gabby Jones for The New York Times

If New York adopts a gas tax holiday, it would be following the lead of states like Connecticut, Florida, Georgia and Maryland — all of which have tried to ease consumers’ economic pain by suspending their gas taxes. And with gasoline averaging $4.33 for a gallon of regular in New York State, supporters of a timeout on gas taxes maintain that high fuel prices could slow or even cripple the state’s fragile economic recovery.

Leaders in New York appear to agree that there should be a respite from gas taxes, which amount to 33.35 cents a gallon. But they are haggling about how to do it. The Democratic-led Senate suggested a May-to-December suspension. A similar proposal in the Assembly would cut all taxes for a full year. Others have suggested issuing one-time rebate checks, which could be targeted at lower-and middle-income New Yorkers, or creating a tax credit.

And while my colleague Grace Ashford says that everyone wants to share in a feel-good tax cut, some worry that fuel companies could raise the base price for a gallon of gas, fattening their bottom lines. There is also concern that the fiscal consequences of dropping the gas tax — which brings in about $2.2 billion a year in combined state and local revenue — could undercut other priorities, including roads, bridges and mass transit.

“Most economists think it’s a bad idea,” said Jason Furman, a professor of economics at Harvard, adding that the debate was less about whether a tax holiday was harmful than about how harmful it would be. “Is it, you know, a terrible thing you should never do? Or is it a minor bad thing, and why not just go ahead and do it because it’s good politics?”

Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat from Buffalo, did not include a gas tax suspension in her executive budget plan. But she indicated last week that she was open to including one in the state budget, which is due Friday.

A Siena poll released on Monday showed that 70 percent of voters across party lines were in favor of some sort of tax relief. Democrats, particularly those from upstate and Long Island, where Republicans have made significant inroads, have taken note with an eye to this year’s election.

No full-service gas in New Jersey? No way.

New Jersey is the only state in the country that requires attendants to pump gas for every customer, a service that a majority of residents have repeatedly told pollsters they support. The idiosyncrasy is often worn as a badge of honor on T-shirts and bumper stickers that say “Jersey Girls Don’t Pump Gas.”

Earlier this month, proponents of self-service gas reintroduced a bill that would permit self-service gas. The effort was backed by a gas station industry group. Proponents said it was an issue of driver choice in a world where most major drug and grocery stores offer self-service checkouts.

More on Gas Prices in New York and New Jersey

  • A Gas Tax Holiday: Proposals to give New Yorkers some sort of relief at the pump have gained momentum. The only question is how to do it.
  • ‘Is This for Real?’: Americans everywhere are feeling the sting of rising fuel costs, leading some consumers to rethink their spending.
  • Converting to Electric: As gas prices rise, New York City lags far behind most cities in electric-car infrastructure. But changes are coming.
  • New Jersey’s Glory Days: The state used to be known for its cheap gas. That came to an end in 2016.

But Nicholas Scutari, the Democratic president of the State Senate, put an end to speculation earlier this month when he said he did not support changing things. “The people of New Jersey are very clear in wanting to keep the system we have now,” Scutari said in a policy position first reported by the New Jersey Monitor. Scutari, whose support would be essential to revamping the way New Jerseyans have gotten their gas since 1949, also said he was not convinced that having self-service lanes would lead to lower gas prices.


Expect a chance of light rain in the morning and a chance of showers in the later afternoon, with temps in the high 60s. At night, temps will drop to the low 50s. Prepare for showers and thunderstorms.

alternate-side parking

In effect until April 14 (Holy Thursday).

The latest New York news

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  • In the Sarah Lawrence cult trial, two siblings told how Lawrence Ray’s methods turned them against one another.

  • A new report from the Center for an Urban Future urged officials to support the hundreds of entrepreneurs who live in public housing.

Libraries dropped fines and got many (happy) returns

Credit…An Rong Xu for The New York Times

A wave of overdue books and DVDs came crashing in after New York City’s three public library systems did away with overdue fines last year. Some of the returned items were accompanied by apologetic notes.

“Enclosed are books I have borrowed and kept in my house for 28-50 years!” one reader wrote before dropping of a box of books at the New York Public Library’s main branch. “I am 75 years old now and these books have helped me through motherhood and my teaching career. I’m sorry for living with these books so long. They became family.”

When someone checked out a copy of the novella “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” in July 1970, the Flushing Library in Queens occupied a chunky building at Main Street and Kissena Boulevard. When the book was returned in December, it came back to a curving metal-and-glass structure that was completed in 1998 on the same triangular site.

And what was it about “The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day,” a 2009 action film that has a 23 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes? Three DVD copies came back to three different libraries in three different boroughs.

The libraries’ decision to drop fines completely followed the lead of libraries in Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia and San Francisco, among other places. The New York systems collected between $3 million and $4 million in fines in the 2019 fiscal year, the last before the coronavirus pandemic, and stopped collecting them in March 2020.

“We learned that we could adjust our budget to do everything we needed to do and cover the lost revenue,” Anthony Marx, the president of the New York Public Library, told our writer Gina Cherelus. He said that libraries are “not in the revenue-generating business. We’re in the encouraging-to-read-and-learn business, and we were getting in our own way” by collecting fines.

Those fines had accumulated for years. “I can’t tell you how stressed out these fines made our customers,” said Tienya Smith, a librarian who runs the branch in Long Island City, Queens.

More than 21,000 overdue or lost items have been returned in Manhattan, some so old that they were no longer in the library’s system. About 51,000 items were returned in Brooklyn through the end of February. And more than 16,000 were returned in Queens. (The libraries still charge replacement fees for lost books.) Happily for the libraries, the announcement that fines were being eliminated brought in more than books and DVDs. One woman sent the Queens Public Library a $1,000 donation on behalf of her 93-year-old mother.

Billy Parrott, who runs the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library in Midtown, the city’s largest circulating branch, said that most overdue items were returned by mail or book drop, rather than in person. This makes sense: Late books can be a source of shame. But librarians insist they aren’t judging.

“We just care about the books,” said Parrott.

What we’re reading

  • The City reported on the delay behind installing a facility rare in New York City: automatic sidewalk toilets.

  • A movie star returns to Broadway, and ticket sales go through the roof. Hugh Jackman in “The Music Man”? Parallels abound to another Broadway comeback.


Corner cabinet

Dear Diary:

I live in Astoria. One day, while I was out walking and talking on the phone with my mom, I saw a porter put a beautiful corner cabinet next to a pile of trash outside the church a few doors down from my building.

It was a quality piece that I knew would look great in my apartment, so I ran home to grab a measuring tape and then returned to see whether it was the right size.

As I was measuring, I heard a gentle voice from behind me.

“Will it fit?”

I turned around to see a young man standing there.

I said goodbye to my mom and turned back to the young man.

“I think so,” I said.

“I will carry it for you, if you’d like,” he said.

How could I refuse?

Without saying a word, he lifted the cabinet up easily and hoisted it over his shoulder. We set off down the street and then up the stairs when we got to my building.

Once we had gotten inside and the cabinet was in place, I wasn’t sure how to thank him.

He noticed my piano.

“Will you play me a song?”

— Katie Coleman

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero, Jeff Boda and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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