New tax needed

New tax needed by the Plain Talk Tax.

It�s not a four-lettered word, but its a dirty one to many people just the same.

It�s time to re-think our attitude about taxes, however.

Taxes, after all, ensure that we have pure water when we turn on our taps at home. They help provide education to everyone from kindergarteners to university doctoral students. They keep us driving on safe roads, in a country protected by the most elite military in the world.

Taxes are also used to change human behavior. We place heavy taxes on cigarettes, for example, with the hopes that driving the costs of smokes ever and ever higher will convince more smokers to quit and stop young people from even considering giving it a try.

It�s time for this nation to impose yet another tax.

It�s time to add a significant tax to gasoline at the pump.

This week, our nation has stood by helplessly and watched as gas prices have soared. Regular unleaded currently is just under $3 a gallon and we doubt it will stay there long.

It�s easy to blame the Arabs or Big Oil or insurgents who keep blowing up oil refineries in Iraq or Hurricane Katrina.

Such thinking, however, will do nothing to solve our country�s energy woes. Consider this:

According to the federal Energy Information Administration, in 2004 the U.S. consumed nearly 140 billion gallons of gasoline, or 7 percent more than in 2000. During the same period, net imports of oil increased by 15.8 percent, to 4.4 billion barrels a year. The U.S. imported 58 percent of its oil needs in 2004, and that figure is growing.

We shouldn�t be surprised with today�s price of gasoline. For decades now, we�ve been consuming this finite, limited resource on our planet � fossil fuel � as if there is an endless supply.

We should know better. This nation experienced oil embargoes from the Middle East during both the Nixon and Carter administrations, which helped us all coin the phrase �energy crisis.�

President Jimmy Carter declared the energy crisis of the 1970s �the moral equivalent of war,� and with gas lines long and prices high, Americans indeed flirted with smaller, less thirsty cars. It didn�t last. Soon we were back to the Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham d�Elegance, and now the Hummer H2, with a gross weight of about 8,500 pounds and in-city mileage in the single digits.

The U.S. also adopted CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards during the 1970s oil crisis. It worked for a little while, but soon became riddled with exceptions and loopholes. The most ridiculous was the out for �light trucks,� a.k.a. sport-utility vehicles. That loophole fatally undercut the formula as manufacturers and consumers opted for larger and thirstier SUVs, which were free from any restraints regarding weight, power or gas mileage.

The obvious solution to vicious gasoline price spirals is conservation, but how to achieve it?

It�s time for a dose of strong medicine, namely European-style taxation to hike prices and force down consumption. The Dutch must chuckle when they hear Americans whine about �skyrocketing gasoline prices.� In Amsterdam, regular gas runs about $6.50 a gallon. No wonder the Dutch love bicycles.

Stiff taxes could be phased in and rebated to low-income consumers at tax time. Taxation is simpler to administer and more effective than CAFE formulas: Good-bye to loopholes, jalopies and gimmicks to circumvent rules. The impact would be immediate. Americans would drive less and use public transit more often.

This nation�s energy supplies would become more stable and, by gobbling up less instead of more and more petroleum each year, we motorists could help stablize the price of energy for airlines, trucking, agriculture, petrochemicals, plastics, synthetic textiles, aluminum, paper, etc.

Several economists have recently noted that less consumption at the pump would reduce U.S. import demand. World oil prices would fall to clear the market. Competition between world refiners would drive down the price of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Cheaper crude would also drive down the price of natural gas, because gas and oil are substitutes in global uses. The price of electricity would also fall.

It�s time to add a significant tax to gasoline at the pump.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

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