Thursday, May 01, 2008

Gas-tax cut not smart, not green

When I first heard someone suggest a summer holiday from the gas tax, I thought it was a lame attempt to placate those famous Orlando parking lots that pass as tourist attractions. Now Sens. Clinton and McCain are running with the idea, and I can't shrug it off.

Cutting the gas tax might be good for politicians but it would not be good for the country. Cutting the tax would encourage more driving just when some Americans are beginning to learn how to drive less. It's clear we need to drive less -- to ease our thirst for imported fuel, to lessen the greenhouse gases we throw into the air, to remake our cities as clusters of livable neighborhoods where job, home, school and play fit comfortably close together.

Now we learn from the Washington Post that some serious economists don't believe a gas-tax cut would even lower the price of fuel as the politicians claim it would. Students of the law of supply and demand have noticed that when something is scarce, and the tax on it is removed, suppliers simply raise the price back to about where it was with the tax included. You know how the pols scold big oil for its big profits? Well, a gas-tax cut would invite them back to the table for a second helping out of your purse and mine.

I'd rather the states and federal government kept collecting the tax, and used it not for more roads but for the energy-saving public transportation our cities need. That, in the long run, would be good for the country. What we need in the short run is personal sacrifice -- car-pooling and vacations close to home -- and less election-inspired foolery.

Here's another lame idea that's not much better than Clinton's and McCain's. Some Florida Republicans propose a tax break for commuters who drive. What, do those folks not read the newspaper? Driving is the problem, not the solution.

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