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The master robbers

Gov. McDonnell perfects the craft at the gasoline pump

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Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell could give lessons in economics to Willie Sutton, the famous bank robber who, when a psychologist asked him why he robbed banks, famously replied, "Because that's where the money is." But bank robbery is work; the easy money is in the pockets of taxpayers. After pretending to target only millionaires and "the rich" for new taxes, politicians such as Mr. McDonnell are going after the middle class.

The tax-the-rich mantra has vanished in a number of states with the discovery that lower-income taxpayers can be hit hardest with an increase in gasoline taxes. New Hampshire's Democratic majority is forthright about its thievery, enacting a straight increase of 15 cents a gallon. Massachusetts voted Wednesday to approve a relatively modest 3 cents per gallon increase.

But Mr. McDonnell is the king of tax sneaks. He and the Virginia General Assembly first eliminated the 17.5 cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline, which gave him cover he thinks by appearing to "cut taxes," but he offset this with a far more pernicious tax on the wholesale price of gasoline. This is expected to raise $3.5 billion in new revenue. Motorists will pay more when prices rise, as the state of Virginia collects the spike in wholesale prices every time a sheik sneezes in Riyadh. Marylanders fare little better with a $3.4 billion increase that includes inflation adjusters, a wholesale tax and a per-gallon levy.

Commuters aren't the only taxpayers who will feel the pain. Even bicyclers will shell out more every time they blow past stop signs and race through red lights, pedaling to Whole Foods for the special on arugula. That's because all produce and just about every other product sold in stores comes in on the turnip truck. Fuel is one of the biggest expenses for transportation companies, and as their costs rise, consumers pay more.

Not so long ago, this would have been a major headache for the pols. When George W. Bush sat behind the desk in the Oval Office, the blame for high gasoline prices hung around his neck with the weight of an anvil. Nancy Pelosi, who was then the speaker of the House, blamed the "two oilmen in the White House" George W. and Vice President Dick Cheney for one particularly nasty spike. Mrs. Pelosi, with practiced tears in her voice, described how groups such as the Boys and Girls Clubs would have to cut programs to absorb the cost to the economy. Shopkeepers would have to turn out the lights early, and visiting nurses would stay home and let Granny freeze alone.

The price of a gallon of gasoline has doubled, from $1.79 to $3.61, since President Obama took office, but Mrs. Pelosi has gone silent. A Texas oilman is easier to blame than a Chicago community organizer. But motorists, and that includes just about everybody, will discover who is to blame. Willie Sutton was an accomplished bank robber, but politicians like Bob McDonnell are the master heist artists.

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