This week, Schenectady County became the first in the Capital Region to opt in on a sales tax cap on gasoline. From June 1 through February 28 of next year, only the first $2 of each gallon will be subject to county tax. This works out to an extra savings of eight cents per gallon. Passed unanimously, the vote is being praised as politicians protecting the people and fighting for the working class.

In reality, it’s a terrible move.

We’re all getting pinched at the pump right now, but ultimately eight cents per gallon provides very low upside for a high downside. Assuming the average 18.5 gallon fuel tank, that’s $1.48 per fill up. Even if you’re at the station twice a week, that’s $11.84 per month. It’s something, yes, but not quite the life changing sum it’s being presented as.

The biggest flaw in supporting a county gas tax cap is the assumption that gas companies will do the right thing. There’s no guarantee they’ll actually lower their prices to match a tax cap. Actually, there’s concrete historical evidence to the contrary from right here in Capital Region.

In a 2006 audit by the Albany County Department of Audit and Control, that county’s then-tax-capped fuel prices were compared to uncapped prices in Rensselaer County. During that August, the twenty stations observed in Rensselaer County remained, on average, more expensive than the fifty stations checked in Albany County. Comptroller Michael Conners declared, “It is clear that the intended savings for Albany County drivers was a windfall for the oil industry.” The cap was removed soon after.

Schenectady County legislators already admit that this could cost the county $1.3 million in revenue; money that could be used on any number of public works projects, including the just-announced Gateway Transportation Hub that still needs $1 million in funding.

I’d rather my $.08 per gallon go to the community than roll the dice on lining more oil industry pockets. Other counties have until May 2 to decide whether they want to institute a cap or not in time for the June 1 implementation.

Let’s all hope they don’t.

UPDATED! Capital Region Gas Stations with Prices Under $4.00

As of Sunday April 24th there are less than a dozen Capital Region gas stations with prices under $4.00. Here they are.