Gasoline prices going up

SMYRNA — Gassing up at a Wawa on Jimmy Drive in Smyrna, Pete Arlett of Milford said he’s starting to feel the pinch of higher gasoline prices.

“I commute up to the Middletown area practically everyday so I’m feeling the pain,” he said. “I was paying like 30 cents less earlier in the year, which was nice, but we all know that never lasts. It’s my own fault for driving a truck I guess, but I need it for work.”

Filling the 36-gallon tank on his Ford F-150 has been costing about $10 per tank more lately than it did in February, he said.

Gasoline prices, both nationally and statewide, are on the rise. As of Thursday, the state’s average was $2.50 per gallon of regular unleaded gasoline, according to American Automobile Association (AAA). This is up from $2.47 last week and $2.27 last month. However, the state’s gas prices are still trending lower than the national, and regional, averages.

Currently, the national average is hovering around $2.68, up from $2.58 a week ago and $2.40 a month ago.

The upward trend isn’t unexpected, said AAA regional spokesman Ken Grant.

“We’re seeing the traditional springtime rise in gas prices and that’s brought on by a few things,” he said. “One is a rise in demand as people start getting out to enjoy the nicer weather and doing some more driving. There’s also been a slight rise in the crude oil prices. Additionally, we’re also starting to move into our summer blend of gasoline which is a little more expensive that the winter blend.”

The seasonally specific blend is used to held control how easily fuel evaporates at higher temperatures, ultimately helping to prevent “vapor lock.”

Unique to the east coast, Mr. Grant also notes that several regional refineries have had reduced production lately because of “various issues.” This includes the fire at the Delaware City Refinery in early February.

“Several refineries have had issues for the past few weeks,” he said. “At the Delaware City Refinery, they had been planning on doing some scheduled maintenance anyway, but the fire kind of knocked out production in the area, so they chose to do their maintenance while they cleaned up from that incident.”

Mr. Grant predicts that prices will continue to climb as demand does, but doesn’t expect the state’s averages to exceed last year’s highs — barring any “unforeseen geopolitical issues or natural disasters.”

“We’ve seen the prices start to rise, but we’re expecting the rate of increase to slow back down and eventually level off,” he said. “Last year’s high was $2.95 per gallon on May 27. We may get in that neighborhood again this summer, but realistically that’s probably a high estimate.”

This time last year the state’s average was $2.58 per gallon.

While few will be pleased with the seasonal increase, the price is still a far cry from the state’s record average high of $4.06 per gallon, set back in June 2008.

Delaware ‘least expensive’

Despite rising prices across the board, Mr. Grant notes that Delaware has had no problem staying the dominant as “least expensive” gas option in the region. This is mostly due to nearby states recently jacking up their gasoline taxes.

Compared to its neighbors, Delaware has the lowest gas tax at 23 cents per gallon. Maryland and New Jersey clock in at 35.3 and 41.4 cents, respectively, while Pennsylvania maintains the highest gas tax in the entire country at 58.7 cents per gallon.

In part, this has led to higher average gas prices in those states. As of Thursday, motorists in Pennsylvania were paying $2.80, Marylanders were paying $2.65 and New Jerseyans were paying $2.69 per gallon, according to AAA data.

Though those states raised their taxes to boost revenues, Delaware has still seen a fringe benefit without having to hit motorists with a higher tax of its own, notes Mr. Grant.

“Because Delaware has stayed the cheapest in the region, a lot of our neighbors and people who commute to and from the state choose to buy all their gasoline here,” he said. “Because of that, we’ve seen about an extra $500 million in gas tax revenues over the past two years.”

Further, Mr. Grant says Delaware has made moves to force legislators to be more fiscally responsible with the proceeds.

“We were happy to see two years ago that the General Assembly passed the second leg of a constitutional amendment creating a ‘lockbox’ for money raised through gas taxes — simply meaning that the revenue from those taxes and motor vehicle fees would all go toward infrastructure and roadways rather than into a general fund,” he said. “The General Assembly has access to the funds in an emergency, but it’d require a super majority in both chambers to make that happen.”

Loose spending from gas tax revenue played heavily into New Jersey raising theirs, said Mr. Grant.

“New Jersey had to implement their massive gas tax hike because they were not, at that time, using the gas tax exclusively to address infrastructure issues,” he said. “They were using that revenue in their general fund. They realized that they needed to start addressing infrastructure issues so they increased the tax considerably. By protecting these funds, Delaware is practicing good fiscal common sense and AAA always advocates for policies like these because they ensure that the road users putting money into the system are the ones to get the benefit.”

To save a few dollars, AAA recommends using its fuel price finder tool at AAA.com/fuelfinder.

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

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