Full of potholes

Gas tax: Proposed reduction would drain key fund for building, maintaining highways.

April 01, 2000

JUST about a year ago, Americans were filling up their gasoline tanks for a buck a gallon. Some motorists found gas for 89 cents, or less.

The costs were among the lowest prices the nation had ever paid, despite the fact that the price included the federal gas tax.

But some members of Congress are acting as if the gas tax is the reason that Americans have been paying drastically higher prices at the pump. Senate Republican leaders are pushing a plan to cut the federal gas tax by 4.3 cents a gallon and to suspend the entire 18.4 cents tax if prices hit $2 a gallon.

The tax-cut plan overlooks the real culprit of rising gas prices -- the rule of supply and demand.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries drove up prices by cutting oil production substantially. The per-barrel price rose from $11 a barrel last year to more than $30 this year, the highest since the Persian Gulf war.

American motorists are understandably frustrated with such a sharp, swift price hike. But when you factor in inflation, retail gas prices remain well below levels of the 1980s, according to the American Petroleum Institute.

The gas tax has nothing to do with the increase. But the assessment has almost everything to do with keeping the nation's transportation infrastructure strong. The tax helps pay the costs of highways, bridges, roads and mass transit systems.

The 4.3-cent gas tax generates $5.8 billion a year for highway improvements and $1.4 billion a year for transit, according to the American Highway Users Alliance.

Cutting the gas tax would do much more harm than good. Rising prices have spurred good discussions on issues like what the nation should do to reduce its dependency on foreign oil. This is not a time to consider any shortsighted "solutions" that we would regret later.

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