06 June 2008

Hike the gas tax

Wednesday midday I was at National Airport drinking a coffee that tasted like boiled shoe leather at the end of a bar. An outlet lured me there. National strikes me as the worst airport in America for keeping your laptop charged before you get onto the plane and can't recharge. Why so few outlets?

So there I am, answering emails and trying not to listen to the bartender talk up a couple who were slurring a bit before they even sat down. They plowed right into slugging back beers and mixed drinks. The Metro's not so bad, the bartender says to them. That's a recent discovery for her, forced by the fact that she's got an SUV. She's going to buy something smaller when she can afford it. Yep, her customers agree. They may need a few more before flying, but they're no fools. "Those SUVs," the guy says, "we all just bought 'em because they looked so cool."

Charles Krauthammer, one of the Washington Post conservatives, has a great column on how Americans have shot ourselves in the foot - or the bicycle tire, or something - with our refusal to tax gas. He doesn't mention the fact that big business and the Republican Party have engineered that situation by instilling fear and distrust of the very government that we're supposedly so proud of. Democracy or republic or whatever.

We've crippled ourselves regarding healthcare and transportation alike - both of which are essential for a vigorous economy.

If, however, you're wedded to the YoYo ideology - you're on your own - that cowboy mythology of individualism over community, then it's hard to get behind any kind of scheme that would benefit everyone - including future generations. Like, for instance, universal healthcare or a gas tax. That's despite solid data from elsewhere that it strengthens the middle class and makes children's lives better. Not a problem in America, where we're all on the verge of winning the Powerball, and will no longer be part of that middle class anyway. And our kids? YoYo.

Enough ranting. Here's Krauthammer:
Unfortunately, instead of hiking the price ourselves by means of a gasoline tax that could be instantly refunded to the American people in the form of lower payroll taxes, we let the Saudis, Venezuelans, Russians and Iranians do the taxing for us -- and pocket the money that the tax would have recycled back to the American worker...

Want to wean us off oil? Be open and honest. The British are paying $8 a gallon for petrol. Goldman Sachs is predicting we will be paying $6 by next year. Why have the extra $2 (above the current $4) go abroad? Have it go to the U.S. Treasury as a gasoline tax and be recycled back into lower payroll taxes.

Announce a schedule of gas tax hikes of 50 cents every six months for the next two years. And put a tax floor under $4 gasoline, so that as high gas prices transform the U.S. auto fleet, change driving habits and thus hugely reduce U.S. demand -- and bring down world crude oil prices -- the American consumer and the American economy reap all of the benefit.

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