RE: [carfree_cities] Gas Tax Advocacy in Washington Post
- The Chicago Tribune also advocated increasing gasoline taxes in an editorial in Sunday's paper:
Life, liberty and cheap gasoline
Published May 29, 2004
America's relationship with cars and gasoline is like a yo-yo diet. We curb our appetite for gasoline when the price goes up, but soon relapse to gluttonous SUVs and motor trips to buy milk three blocks away when the gas prices drop.
Adjusted for inflation, gas is still cheaper today than it was 20 years ago. But people don't think in 20-year cycles, we think about what we shelled out last week and compare it to the hole in our pocket this week, and gripe about what we're paying for gasoline.
We know we're beholden to the gas producing nations, and we need to do something about that. But the only time we do something is in those rare moments when gas gets truly scarce and very expensive.
When that happens, it prods us to take shorter trips. And it prods politicians to search for The Answer.
John Kerry wants to increase the gas supply by diverting oil that is to be delivered to the nation's strategic petroleum reserve. Other Democrats want to start draining the reserve to increase the domestic supply. Those are terrible ideas, tapping a reserve that has been established for a genuine emergency. What they want to do would have little or no impact on prices.
The Bush administration's answer is to call for the passage of an energy bill that has been running on empty for months.
Here's another idea. It's not a new one, and it has never gained much traction, but unlike everything else that has been proposed, it would have a genuine and immediate impact.
In order to force U.S. drivers into a leaner gasoline diet and lessen our reliance on foreign oil, the federal government should sharply increase taxes at the pump.
In Europe, high gas prices make Fiat Puntos the toast of the showroom. Bet you have never seen a Parisian vrooming to a patisserie in a Chevy Avalanche.
Consistently pricey gasoline would create its own virtuous cycle by reducing dependence on foreign oil and pollution, and lessening the impact of unforeseen events like a lunatic president in Venezuela or a war in the Middle East.
It's certainly a far more effective method of reducing consumption than the usual brainstorms by government bureaucrats and politicians--are your tires properly inflated?--or imposing arbitrary fuel efficiency standards on cars.
Take Kerry's plan to spend $10 billion over 10 years on new plants to manufacture fuel-efficient cars. If we just make gas expensive enough, consumers and car manufacturers will find their own happy medium. More people will take the train. People will drive shorter trips.
Bush's idea to drill our way out of the problem--with little effort to conserve fuel--would also do little to help. Drilling cannot keep up with America's growing appetite for oil.
Some have suggested eliminating the yo-yo effect of gas prices by keeping gasoline at a permanently high price, say $3.50 a gallon, by adjusting taxes to offset the fluctuation in market prices.
Higher gas taxes could be phased in over several years to avoid a shock to the economy. The federal government could also make this arrangement revenue-neutral by lowering income tax rates or providing some form of tax abatement.
OK, enough dreaming. No politician can win on a platform of raising gasoline prices. John Kerry once favored this idea, but you won't hear him even whisper it now. Car manufacturers aren't likely to buy into a plan that would shift market sentiment away from Dodge Durangos and toward Dodge Neons.
So we are stuck with "skyrocketing" gasoline prices that really aren't that high at all, and politicians' answers that aren't really answers.
Copyright (c) 2004, Chicago Tribune