Please Raise My Taxes

The current U.S. federal gasoline tax is 18.4 cents per gallon. The diesel tax is 24.4. States add varying amounts. (Texas adds 20 cents. New York is highest at 41.3 cents.) In most of the rest of the industrialized world, the gas tax is MUCH higher. The reality is that in most industrialized nations gas has cost five dollars plus per gallon for many years. (In the Middle East and China, gas is far cheaper, but only because the governments subsidize fuel costs.)

In addition, in many countries, there is a significant tax hit for buying fuel inefficient vehicles. (In China there is a 40% sales tax for cars with engines larger than 4 liters.)

In the U.S., the auto industry has owned “our” elected representatives in Washington for the last 20 (or 30, or 50) years. Fuel taxes are ridiculously low. Fuel efficiency standards are a joke. “CAFÉ” standards (Corporate Average Fuel Economy), which theoretically measure the fuel efficiency of a manufacturer’s entire fleet of vehicles, actually has two standards: one for cars (currently 27.5 mpg) and a different, lower standard (currently 24 mpg) for “light trucks” which includes SUVs. The result has been that there has been no incentive for the Big Three to make more fuel efficient vehicles or for Americans to buy them.
The huge big news is that President Obama has raised the CAFÉ standards. The new CAFÉ standards require that every manufacturer’s fleet efficiency standard is raised to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. These changes are significant not only because they significantly raise the fleet standard, they also eliminate the lower standard for “trucks”. “Fleet” standards will actually be fleet standards, not fleet standards except for ……, except for, ….., except for,……. (Isn’t the truth a wonderful thing?) The reason (the only reason) the president could “get away with” the change and the increase is because the auto industry is on the brink of collapse and is in no position to say no. It’s about time.

BUT and this is a but in all capital letters, bold print, underlined, with red ink, ….. if we (me and you, America) really want to change things, we should raise the federal fuel tax significantly. Like at least a dollar per gallon. (Breathe slowly. If you are feeling faint, put your head between your knees.) Before you assume I am some left wing lunatic that drives an electric car that gets 100 miles per gallon, let me assure you that I drive one of the least fuel efficient vehicles on the planet besides a Hummer. I drive a Ford F-350 four door four wheel drive long bed diesel truck. It gets 13 miles per gallon in the city and a little more on the highway. I actually have an excuse (or two) for my contribution to global warming. First, I live about one-half mile from my office. It takes me less than two minutes to get to work (unless I stop at Starbucks). I drive to the bankruptcy court three or four days per week. It is seven miles each way. My day to day life (grocery store, restaurants, gas station, liquor store, plant nursery, Lowe’s and Home Depot, etc) is within a two mile radius of my house. My truck may get crappy gas mileage, but I drive significantly less miles than almost everybody I know. Second, I own a farm/ranch in the country outside of town. It is forty miles each way there and back. I actually use my truck to haul fence stuff and trailers and equipment and hay bales and ……… (A Prius won’t haul a lot of hay bales or fence posts.)

Until recently, I owned a luxury sports coupe. I won’t say what brand because I’m not criticizing that particular manufacturer, I’m criticizing all of the major manufacturers. The speedometer on my car went up to 180 miles per hour. Seriously, 180 miles per hour. Where am I supposed to drive a car 180 miles per hour? (I never drove it over 130. On the Interstate. At 3:00 in the morning when there were no other cars.) My car had a large V8. The same car with a medium sized V6 would still go over 100 miles per hour AND get 5 miles per gallon better gas mileage. Why do we sell cars that go 180 miles per hour?

If we raised the gas tax and diesel cost a dollar more per gallon and I knew (or hoped with my fingers crossed) the government wasn’t just flushing my tax dollars down the toilet, I would be willing to pay the tax because it is in the best interest of the country. My country. (Your country, too.) In theory, the federal fuel tax is supposed to pay (in part) for highway construction. In case you haven’t been watching the news, we haven’t done a very good job of maintaining our infrastructure. (I seem to recall a bridge dropping into the Mississippi in Minneapolis.)

If we actually used the fuel tax money to repair and build roads and bridges, one result would be to create a bunch of jobs right here in the good old U.S. of A. (It’s kind of hard to outsource jobs building a bridge in Minneapolis to someplace not pretty close to Minneapolis.) We might also use some of the money to help communities with light rail and similar construction (and energy saving) projects.

Another result would be more Americans driving more fuel efficient cars. The result of that would be less carbon emissions in the U.S. And I don’t want to hear about the growth in emissions in India and China and we can’t really make a difference. The U.S. was the worst offender for decades. The fact that somebody else is a sinner is no excuse for you to be a sinner. We have failed to lead by example. Maybe we should take the high road for a change.

Another result would be that we would import less foreign oil. Lots of the right wing nut jobs make a big deal about us being dependent on oil from “countries that hate us.” The implication is that we are importing all of our oil from those dirty rotten Arab Muslim terrorist sons of bitches. Not only is this racist fearmongering (which is why the right wing nut jobs like to say it), it is simply false as a matter of fact. The top source (by far) of oil imported to the U.S. is …………. Canada. That’s right, Canada. (Those dirty rotten Anglo/French Protestant hockey playing sons of bitches.) The next source on the list is ………… Mexico. (Those dirty rotten Spanish Catholic soccer playing sons of bitches.)

Maybe I am hopelessly misinformed, but I was under the impression that Canada and Mexico actually like us. (Most of the time, anyway. As neighbors go, I know we don’t mow our yard often enough, but we really don’t play our stereo that loud and we always invite you over when we have a party.)

Venezuela is third and Saudi Arabia is fourth. (I’m guessing those are the countries that are supposed to hate us.) If you go far enough down the list, the Virgin Islands come in at twelve, the U.K. at fourteen, and Norway at fifteen. (Please tell me Norway doesn’t hate us.) My concern about importing foreign oil isn’t because Canadians hate us, it is about our trade deficit, which is an ongoing problem that has to change.

Between raising (really raising this time) the CAFÉ standards and increasing the federal gasoline tax, there would be a significant incentive for automakers to make, and for Americans to buy and drive, more fuel efficient vehicles. America has not had any real energy policy during my lifetime. This was a complete abdication of responsibility by industry and government. (And every American, but industry and government are supposed to be the grown ups in the room.)

So, to all of our elected representatives in Washington, do the right thing for a change. Do what is right for America, even if it is terribly unpopular. (Most Americans have short term memory loss, anyway.) Please, raise my taxes.

Michael Baumer

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by Michael Baumer