The change added 2.5 cents to the tax on each gallon of gas and diesel fuel. That’s 25 cents more for a 10-gallon fill-up.
But when you look around the country and in nearby states where taxes stayed the same, you might think North Carolina’s gas tax went down – not up. Prices elsewhere have risen faster than ours, and North Carolina’s gas tax hike feels strangely painless.
Gas prices climbed across the United States after the last few days of June, prodded by a slow increase in the cost of crude oil. And consumers have felt the push and pull of global forces from the Greek debt crisis to today’s unemployment numbers
The average price for self-service regular clicked 3.3 cents higher in North Carolina between June 30 – the last day of our old 32.5-cent tax – and Friday – after a week of the new state tax, an all-time-high 35 cents.
Our next-door neighbors kept taxes down, but they saw pump prices climb faster during the same period, from 3.8 cents in Virginia to 6.8 cents in Georgia, according to the Oil Price Information Service.
Across the country, the national average price rose 5.3 cents.
“It doesn’t make sense, to be honest with you,” said Gary Harris, executive director of N.C. Petroleum and Convenience Marketers, a gas retailers trade group. “I’m not sure why the other states’ prices would have gone up more than ours did.”
Somehow, said Tom Crosby, vice president of the Charlotte-based AAA Carolinas motor club, North Carolina has “absorbed the 2.5-cent tax increase very seamlessly.” He doesn’t know why.
“I can’t explain that anomaly,” Crosby said.
Tar Heel motorists like to gripe that they’re gouged at every opportunity. But this time, maybe the market forces are on our side.
“It’s probably just a case of weak demand,” said John Felmy, chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute, a Washington-based industry group. “As a supplier, even if your taxes go up, you can’t always pass along the cost, so your margins take a hit.”
Setting gas prices is part of Keith Bell’s job as senior vice president of fuels for The Pantry, a Cary-based convenience store chain. He said the tax increase really has kicked in, but consumers haven’t felt the full effect yet.
“The consumer gas market is highly competitive,” Bell said by e-mail. “As such, competitive pricing pressures have largely delayed the full pass-through of the tax change.”