Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Gax Tax Repeal or Oil Company Giveaway?

Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey and fellow gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos have joined each other in favoring a temporary gas tax rollback. Even Governor Mitt Romney thinks this is a bad idea, saying that lowering the gas tax would only encourage people to use more, and we should instead be trying to encourage people to conserve gas. He is right about this -- lowering or eliminating the tax is like putting a band aid on a bullet wound. Sure it might help a little, but it's not going to stop the bleeding and ultimately it's not going to make a difference unless the underlying problems are addressed.

Conservation arguments aside, how many days will it take for gas prices to make up that 21 cents a gallon after the tax is repealed? We've recently seen the prices go up that high in an afternoon. The oil companies know we're willing to pay three bucks a gallon -- why should they charge any less? They're more worried about their next executive's $400 million retirement package than whether you have to choose between gas or food. There's no incentive for them to charge a penny less than what we're willing to pay, particularly in the short term. If gas prices end up staying the same, that 21 cents will just end up going to oil barons instead of the state. I don't think anyone would argue that our roads and bridges are in such excellent shape that we couldn't use the money locally. Of course, maybe if our roads and bridges fall apart, people will end up conserving gas because they can't actually drive anywhere anymore. I don't think that's what the Lieutenant Governor has in mind, though.

I've said this before, but this issue is just a trap. It's a gimmick so that Republicans can say that Democrats don't want to lower your taxes, never mind that the highest ranking Republican in the state also opposes rolling back the tax. Frankly this is another example of Kerry Healey promising to lower taxes at the same time she says she's going to increase education spending and even start taking a salary again. Not that this would ever happen, but if we're going to monkey around with the gas taxes, why not change them from a flat per-gallon fee to a percentage of the total bill? Yes, it would be more complicated to calculate, but this could be a revenue neutral way to lower the burden of the gas tax on people who use less gas. Not only that, but as gas prices rose and oil companies got rich, the state would see a corresponding increase in the amount coming in through the tax.