Inside the Capitol

Friday, July 11, 2008

7-25 Increase Gasoline Tax?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Columns on addressing America's energy needs have brought much response.
Among the additions to my list of what is needed for a comprehensive energy policy are an increased gas tax, natural gas as a vehicle fuel and more emphasis on American's need to sacrifice a little of their good life.
We'll start with a higher gas tax. What? Raise taxes on gas? We're trying to make it cheaper so we can again enjoy using as much of it as we want to continue our present lifestyle.
That's the point, say proponents of a higher gas tax. Gas will never be cheap again. We need to be jolted into changing our lifestyle so we don't depend on it so much.
Other nations have imposed a high tax on gas for years in order to encourage conservation. Most nations don't have big oil reserves so they always have been dependent on foreign oil and have guarded against using too much by imposing high taxes.
Higher gas taxes also help keep roads and bridges in good repair. The Minneapolis bridge collapse a few years ago made us aware of how much our nation's bridges have fallen into disrepair.
Other nations have had $6 gas for years and now are going up to $8, $10 and even $12 a gallon. How do they live with that? Well, they drive smaller cars, to begin with.
That would be difficult in the United States. Cars are a status symbol here. A person's house may look like everyone else's on the block, but with a big SUV or pick up in the driveway, people know that is someone to be reckoned with.
Car makers say the reason they have opposed higher fuel efficiency standards is because that would favor foreign automakers who make smaller cars because their customers aren't into big trucks.
Fuel efficiency standards are a big part of cutting gas use. In 1975, the nation's first fuel economy standards were passed by Congress requiring an increase from 13.8 miles per gallon to 27.5 mpg by 1989..
In 1990, legislation was introduced in Congress to further raise fuel economy to 40 mpg. Furious opposition came from Detroit, from all lawmakers in auto making states and from conservative Republicans. They were successful in blocking the legislation.
Detroit says don't blame the auto industry. Blame the American consumer for wanting cars that are big and safe. Many in the auto industry suggest that raising taxes on gasoline is more effective than mileage standards because it is the easiest way to change buying habits.
Experience overseas has proven that although consumers don't like higher taxes on gasoline, they've adapted. A society can function and grow even with higher fuel prices. People get used to it.
After the 1990 failure of higher mileage standards, the first President Bush proposed a rather substantial gas tax increase, which was whittled back to 5 cents before it passed. And you know what happened to that President Bush when he ran for reelection in 1992.
Experience shows that increasing any taxes associated with people's cars is the most dangerous action in the political world. Gov. Bruce King proposed a modest state gas tax increase in the 1994 Legislature and lost reelection to his fourth term as governor.
There were other reasons too, but the gas tax was what most of the hollering was about. A bill to repeal of that increase was one of Gov. Gary Johnson's first actions after taking over from Gov. King.
President Bill Clinton's only defeat came at the end of his first two-year term as governor of Arkansas. He had signed an increase in motor vehicle license fees. He never made that mistake again.
Supporters of higher federal gas taxes and increased fuel standards missed an excellent opportunity after the Sept. 11 attacks to take action in the name of moving toward energy independence to protect national security.
But there was no call by this President Bush for sacrifice to help win the war on terror. In fact, he urged people to go shopping. I remember well because my wife hasn't yet forgotten.
FRI, 7-25-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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