- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2000

It's picking up again the yammering for an increase in the federal gasoline tax. The usual suspects self-styled/self-appointed "public citizens," greenie fringe groups and New York City-dwelling elites are urging Congress to jack up the cost of a gallon of fuel to force Americans to "conserve energy." The Washington Post has recently published several paeans to higher taxes, on its op-ed pages and elsewhere.

It's not enough that Uncle Sam, along with levies imposed by states, extracts 40-75 cents per gallon already accounting for 40 percent or more of the retail cost to motorists. No, American drivers are not "paying their fair share," as compared to their European and Japanese brethren who have to shell out anywhere from $2-$4 or more for a gallon.

This argument is so topsy-turvy it's hard to know where to begin an attempt to set it aright. Saying that Americans should be compelled to pay confiscatory motor fuels taxes that are on the order of 150-200 percent of the actual retail value of a given commodity is akin to saying Americans should strive for equality on other measures of impoverishment characteristic of Europe's addled, economically stagnant social-welfare states such as chronic unemployment, low productivity and national governments whose efficient operating characteristics resemble the worst American departments of motor vehicles.

We most certainly do not want to emulate Europe in tax policy, or other areas. If anything, Europe should be adopting American-style policies including relief from stultifying motor fuels taxes.

The free flow of energy at close to market rates is critical for a healthy, vibrant economy. We would not be in the midst of almost 10 years of uninterrupted economic growth were it not for restraint in applying taxes to fuel. There's a reason why it still feels like 1979 in many European countries; those old enough to recall the Carter era will remember that it was the ripple effect of scarce and expensive gasoline that crippled the economy during that time and that it's no coincidence the economic boom which began under Ronald Reagan coincides with flat, stable energy prices.

Want to mess that up? Add a 50 cent tax to motor fuels, as advocated explicitly by some and ominously, by presidential contender Al Gore, author of the extremist tract, "Earth in the Balance." In it Mr. Gore fulminates about the evils of the internal combustion engine, arguing that it represents a "mortal threat" to humanity that exceeds any future risk be it some future Hitler, Stalin or both. Al Gore, the man who may well be our next president, has gone on record endorsing viewpoints and advocating positions that ought to give voters, even Democratic voters, the heebie-jeebies. His take on motor fuels taxes, "global warming" and the associated environmental mumbo-jumbo, should give anyone a moment's pause.

Lawmakers shouldn't jack up gasoline taxes any further just because the Europeans have done it to themselves. They need to provide evidence it would make sound public policy. There isn't any. If Mr. Gore and his fellow environmentalists want to "conserve energy," they are free to do so. They might start by conserving the energy they are now wasting trying to stir up anxiety over gas prices they think are too low.

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