Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Keep the Gas Tax

There are some strange political bedfellows this week on the issue of whether to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline during the summer travel season. Finally, we have a sharp and concise issue difference between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

On this issue I must agree with Senator Obama.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton lined up with Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, in endorsing a plan to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for the summer travel season. But Senator Barack Obama, Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic rival, spoke out firmly against the proposal, saying it would save consumers little and do nothing to curtail oil consumption and imports.


President Bush’s spokeswoman essentially sided with Mr. Obama in saying that tax holidays and new levies on oil companies would not address the long-term problems of dependence on foreign oil.*

Dana Perino, the White House spokeswoman, said gasoline prices were “entirely too high, but I think it would be disingenuous and unfortunate for American consumers for them to be led to believe that there is a short-term fix.”

*Our problem, which Bush doesn't seem to understand, is not just our dependence on foreign oil; the problem is our dependence on oil, as well as our excessive level of usage. Period.

As I've said before, at least half the states are already having serious issues with funding for highway improvements. The excise tax is a crucial component in the funds available for highway and bridge maintenance.

There's a lot we can do to help overcome this problem in the long-run. And frankly, we should have already had a head start on this 5, 10, even 20 years ago. Perhaps we'll learn a lesson from this: plan ahead.

Yes, it sucks. I bristle each time I have to pump $60 into my fuel tank. And I do it far less than the average American. And it's easy for me to sit here and preach conservation as a short-term solution until we can address the longer-term fixes. But honestly, there are very few of us actually minimizing our trips, combining errands, eliminating unnecessary travel, and perhaps most importantly, driving efficiently when we must.

It's as if people don't understand a vehicle consumes far more fuel during acceleration than while cruising or coasting. Yes, day after day, I witness drivers (most in pickup trucks and SUVs since those account for the majority of vehicles on the road in Texas) speeding up to pass me when I've removed my foot from the pedal because I see a red light several hundred yards ahead.

So while I'm coasting and achieving well in excess of 50 MPG, the impatient ones are slurping the fuel and getting perhaps 5 to 7 MPG, if that. Since my car is equipped with a miles per gallon calculator, I know what my average is when I conserve vs. when I don't. If I drive as most others do -- completely oblivious to the reality of conserving vs. spending -- I'll easily get 3 to 4 miles per gallon less than when I drive with some awareness that I'm saving money by coasting to the traffic light.

On the low end that difference can amount to 25 miles per tank of gas. At 25 miles per gallon that's a savings of one gallon per tank. It might not sound like much, but over the course of three summer months, if you fill up once a week, it's in excess of $43.00. And honestly, I'm saving more than that with my driving habits, and I'm certainly not a "granny" driver. I just use common sense.

That $43 over a summer is, incidentally, more than what we'd be saving if the federal excise tax is suspended.
At a meeting with voters in North Carolina on Monday, Mr. Obama said lifting the gas tax for three months would save the average consumer no more than $30, a figure confirmed by Congressional analysts.

Suspending the tax is really a bad idea. And Americans seem to need an excuse to even think about how to conserve. And higher gas prices will keep the issue at the top of the list of voter issues which ultimately, with any friggin' luck, might influence Congress to stop sucking up to the petroleum industry and actually implement some short- and long-term progressive measures to get us out of this deepening hole.

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