The Gas Tax Holiday
Desperate to curry favor with short-attention span voters, both John McCain and Hilary Clinton have proposed plans for a “gas tax holiday” this summer, when Americans drive most. The explicit reason for such a plan, which is gaining popularity among Congressman facing reelection challenges, is to give consumers “a break” while the economy is poor and costs are rising. The implicit reason, suggested by each candidate’s handlers, is that implementing timely and welcome relief sends a powerful message that the multi-millionaire politicians are “in touch with” and sympathetic to the concerns of the little guy. When that little guy goes to the polls in November, he’ll remember that someone up there cares about him and his workaday problems, filling the tank of his truck being chief among them.
In a not altogether unrelated story, the TIMES reported that ridership on the Los Angeles County MetroRail reached an all-time high last week. Residents here have started doing the unthinkable: availing themselves of public transportation.
If the timeless law of supply-and-demand is to be trusted, the best way for Americans to spend less money on gasoline is to spend less money on gasoline. That would require austerity measures that contravene our national sense of entitlement, but the results would be beneficial both for our savings accounts and our environment. Making gasoline “cheaper” by waiving the taxes associated with the product won’t discourage consumption; it will guarantee the wastefulness and profligacy that’s gotten us into our fine mess. Indeed, the most effective — and politically suicidal — thing our leaders could do would be to raise taxes on gasoline, implement “guzzler” surcharges on vehicles that get fewer than 30 MPG and use the additional funds to create incentives for public transportation.
We need to burn less fuel. We need to stigmatize wasteful vehicles. We need to make a solo car trip a crisis of conscience.
Calling for a gas tax holiday (in effect subsidizing destructive behavior) may seem at first blush to send a message of compassion. But accepting business as usual isn’t going to fix anything. It’s time for tough love, and tough choices.