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    Summer Gas Tax Proposals Are Full of Hot Air

    Oil is hitting record highs of $120 per barrel, gas prices are climbing toward the $4 per gallon mark, and everyone is feeling the pinch. This leaves politicians scrambling to be the ones that propose a solution. With the presidential election in its constant state of being “right around the corner,” we’ve gotten to see plenty of empty political pandering across the board.

    I suppose if there’s one thing this situation shows, it’s that political demagoguery beats out serious debate on either side of the political aisle. On this issue, at least, presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, a Democratic senator from New York, and John McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona, are proposing the same useless solution.

    It’s really McCain who should get the credit for proposing the idea of a temporary, summer-long “holiday” from the Federal excise tax on gasoline, which is currently set at 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents for diesel fuel. Clinton has since expressed her support of the idea, as well as proposing to set an extra windfall profits tax on oil companies, in order to make up for the lost revenue.

    Although I dislike taxes in almost every form, as far as this excise tax goes, it’s actually not a terrible one. Since we expect the federal government to build and maintain our complex road system, they are obviously going to need a source of funding to do the job. And, since there’s no such thing as a free lunch, they’ve got to get the money somehow.

    The excise tax, in principle, operates more like a usury fee than a tax anyway, because 80% of the money collected from this gas tax is put directly into the Highway Trust Fund, an organization that oversees and sponsors construction and repair of highways, bridges and related infrastructure. The logic behind this usury fee is the more gas you put into the car, the more you use the road systems, the more stress you put onto the system, the more economic responsibility you have to keep it in order. People who use public transportation shouldn’t have to pay for the damage caused by drivers.

    McCain’s proposal is to cut this tax and replace it with nothing, though he suggests we should try to save money by cutting earmark spending elsewhere; though he is oddly nonspecific of what earmark spending should be cut. This nonspecific proposal would threaten to underfund our aging highway infrastructure, which is already in sore need of replacing (remember the bridge collapse in Minnesota last year?).

    Clinton, on the other hand, has provided a perfectly unreasonable way to make up for the lost revenue. She proposes to institute a windfall profits tax, a tax on industry to recoup sharp profit increases, on oil companies. Clinton is not completely ignorant about how the free markets works, so she at least recognizes that oil companies won’t meekly absorb the extra costs, they’ll raise prices to make up for the lost revenue.

    Clinton plans, according to her website, are as follows: “Hillary will make it unlawful for any supplier — wholesaler or retailer — to sell crude oil or gasoline at an unconscionably excessive price.”

    Never mind who gets to determine what “excessive price” means, or where Clinton came up with her $1 million and prison term penalties, what I want to know is how Clinton is planning on passing all this legislation? Does she really think that the Federal Trade Commission’s Bush-appointed administrators will play along? And how exactly does she plan on getting this approved by the Senate and signed by Bush and Cheney (and their oilman cronies) before Memorial Day?

    Obviously, neither Clinton nor McCain really expect this bill to be passed. This is just yet another political maneuver designed to fool the independent working class into thinking that something is being done. I believe that Obama has done this too, though thankfully, he has so far refused to subscribe to this particular foolery.

    In reality, the only way to get relief from the high cost of oil is to decrease consumption, and any political fixes are temporary and ineffective. Our consumption-based economy is unsustainable at current levels, as evidenced by the 70% rise in oil prices over just the last nine months coupled with the falling dollar. Since oil is still largely traded in U.S. dollars, our economy is, at the moment, tied to oil. We can’t keep consuming as we are, produce little to no tangible or valuable goods and still expect to have low oil prices.

    The irony is that, given the primary production that we do have — wheat and corn, for example — relies heavily on our transportation system in order to be distributed across the globe. If we don’t keep our highways in shape now, we won’t have the opportunity to shift to a production-based economy, be it one that runs on fossil or some alternative fuels.

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