The first phase of Pennsylvania's gas tax kicked on Jan. 1, adding 9.5 cents to each gallon of gasoline and about 13 cents to each gallon of diesel.

The tax is imposed on sales of fuel to gas station owners, who are expected to pass it along to customers.

But the hit might not be as hard as it could have been: the U. S. Energy Information Administration expects the wholesale price of gas and diesel fuel to drop a bit this year, about seven cents a gallon for gas and about 15 cents for diesel, said spokesman Jonathan Cogan.

That would reduce the projected price per gallon of gasoline from $3.50 a gallon to $3.43 a gallon, and diesel fuel from $3.92 to $3.77.

As of Thursday morning, gas prices at 11 stations in the Lehighton area averaged $3.50 a gallon for regular gas and $4.14 per gallon for diesel, according to GasBuddy.com.

The average price per gallon of gas nationally was $3.31.

Don't blame gas station owners for the pain at the pump. Their profit margins on fuel are already running on fumes, forcing them to pass along the tax increase to their customers.

The average profit margin on a gallon of gas is about three cents per gallon before taxes, according to the Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing.

"We make little if no money on gas, so it will get passed through," saysDonald Fegley, CEO of the Tamaqua-based Fegley Oil Company. "In today's world, we have to make it on the Tastykakes and icedteas."

The gas tax "is going to hurt everyone, especially people who don't have high-paying jobs and have to travel," he says.

The gas tax shock wave won't just impact drivers, Fegley says.

"They were getting 50.9 cents (tax) on a gallon of gas already, and diesel was just shy of 62.9 cents. All those truckers are delivering products to stores they can't just eat that (increase). There will be a chain reaction. People will be paying more for everything," he says.

The tax, which the state levied to help pay for a $2.3 billion transportation program to fix ailing infrastructure, is planned to come in three phases over the next few years, accumulating to a total 28.5 cents per gallon of gas.

Gov. Tom Corbett in November signed the transportation program funding bill into law, lifting the caps on gas and diesel fuels for the first time in decades.