RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Senate Democrats are proposing sending a rebate check to drivers across the state to help with the rising cost of gas.
Under a bill filed this week, all adults with a valid North Carolina driver’s license as of March 31 would get a check or debit card for $200.
“The top, top issue we’re hearing is about food prices, gas prices, that they cannot afford anything. So, I think we would really be doing a disservice to the people of North Carolina if we gaveled out of this short session and do absolutely nothing about it,” said Sen. Natalie Murdock (D-Durham County).
Democrats propose using $1.3 billion of the state’s anticipated $4.2 billion surplus this year to pay for their plan.
“We know that this is something the state can afford,” Murdock said. “I just think it’s very difficult to deny folks the funding they need to feed their families and to survive when we have such a great surplus.”
According to AAA, the average price for a gallon of regular gas was almost $4.36 per gallon in North Carolina on Friday. That’s $1.45 higher than it was a year ago.
NC State economist Mike Walden says he expects prices likely will climb higher but said drivers’ behavior could affect that.
“My top level for gas prices is probably shy of $5 but maybe $4.80, $4.85,” he said. “If people look at these prices and say, ‘Gosh I’m still gonna do something but I’m gonna keep it close to home, I’m gonna curtail my driving,’ that would reduce buying and that would actually take some pressure off of gas prices.”
Walden thinks the idea of a rebate is better than temporarily suspending the gas tax, which some other states recently have done.
“My concern with lowering the state gas tax is that money goes directly to the state highway fund to build roads, to maintain roads,” he said. “We need every dollar we can get in that fund. So, I would be concerned if we lowered the gas tax rate, there would be a lot of pushback to take it back up.”
The bill from Democrats comes as Republican leaders in the General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper weigh what do with the surplus.
Republicans have not said yet what specific changes they want to make to the state budget, but House Speaker Tim Moore recently said that discussions about further tax relief were underway.
“I don’t want it to look like a gimmick,” he said. “I want to make sure that tax policy that we’re considering is actually something that gives people back their money that’s not needed by the government. At the same time, it’s actually something that will pay dividends down the road.”
He also said they’re also trying to weigh the potential for a recession later this year.
Lauren Horsch, a spokesperson for Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, was critical of the rebate idea.
“A one-time rebate that doesn’t cover the average additional monthly cost of Biden’s inflation is nothing more than a band-aid. If we want to help North Carolinians afford their everyday expenses, we should focus on real long-term, permanent tax relief,” she wrote in an email.
In his budget proposal earlier this month, Gov. Cooper did not suggest any tax cuts. He did call for additional raises for state workers, putting more money into reserve funds and various other changes to the budget.
“High gas prices continue to hurt families across the country and this is one way to help ease the burden. The Governor will carefully review this legislation and he looks forward to the upcoming budget negotiations,” said Jordan Monaghan, a spokesperson for Gov. Cooper, on Friday in response to questions about the rebate proposal.