• Nov 23rd 2009 at 7:26PM
  • 52
Raising taxes on gasoline is political suicide in the United States. Any politician foolish enough to propose raising the gas tax would be hounded out of office, or never elected in the first place. We, the American people, will see to that.
You see, we don't like taxes of any sort. And we especially hate gas taxes. Owning a car in America isn't so much of a privilege as it is a necessity. Most our communities don't have public transportation. So we need our wheels to get to work, or school, or going out for fun, or whatever else we want to do with them. In America, even the poorest among us drive cars. And none of us want the government taxing our mobility out of our reach.

But maybe the problem is that the American people have never been properly sold on the need to raise the gas tax. Here's my pitch.


John McElroy is host of the TV program "Autoline Detroit" and daily web video "Autoline Daily". Every week he brings his unique insights as an auto industry insider to Autoblog readers.

People in debt don't call the shots.
Because we keep the price of oil so cheap, we use an awful lot of it: 20 million barrels a day, every single day. About half of that is used for transportation purposes. And because we import so much oil, it has a debilitating impact on our trade deficit. Every year we ship $300 billion out of this country to pay our oil bills. Indeed, it is a key contributor to why the United States has gone from being a creditor nation to a debtor nation, a shocking development that calls into question this nation's ability to remain a world leader. People in debt don't call the shots. They get told what to do.

Worse still, we import a lot of that oil from troubled hot spots in the world. It leaves us very vulnerable to cut-offs, and forces us to deal with less-than-friendly regimes that we could otherwise choose to ignore.

... if gas prices remain relatively low there's going to be acres of lonely small cars gathering dust on dealer lots.
Then there's the impact on the auto industry. Automakers are under the gun to meet fuel efficiency standards that will force them to build millions of small cars that fit in the A, B and C-class segments. If the price of gasoline is high they should have no problem selling these cars, as we saw in the summer of 2008 when gas prices shot over $4 a gallon. But if gas prices remain relatively low, like they are right now, there's going to be acres of lonely small cars gathering dust on dealer lots. That alone will threaten the financial viability of most automakers in this country.

A lot of people assure me that gasoline prices are going to rise on their own anyway as the global economy recovers. But these are largely the same people who assured me a year ago that gas would never, ever fall back under $4 a gallon again. What if the "experts" are wrong this time too, and oil prices stay pretty much where they are? I can categorically guarantee you that would be a disaster for the auto industry.

Meanwhile, we have a deadly war that is raging in Afghanistan. The Defense Department says it will cost $65 billion next year without any troop build-up, and over $100 billion if the President decides to send in more troops. The escalating costs in Afghanistan are wiping out any savings from withdrawing from Iraq.

Our troops in Afghanistan need new types of MRAP vehicles (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected). They're being killed up by roadside bombs because the MRAPs we developed for Iraq are ineffective in Afghanistan's mountainous terrain and rocky dirt roads. We need to get our troops what they need, and we need to get it to them as fast as possible, cost be damned. But how do we come up with the money to pay for it?

I think we need to start taxing imported oil.
I think we need to start by taxing oil, but not just any oil. Only imported oil. A $5 tax on every barrel of oil that is imported into this country would raise over $18 billion a year. A $25 tax on imported oil would just about pay for the entire Afghan war.

And this kind of tax would dovetail perfectly our national needs. We could get our troops the equipment that will save their lives. We could ensure stability in the auto industry. And we would spur development of new domestic sources of fuel.

With specific goals spelled out as to how this money would be spent, I believe the American people would finally accept a tax designed to raise the price of oil. All I have to do now is find a politician brave enough to propose it.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      John rules, but it's time for a NEW PICTURE. Looks like an 80s family Christmas shot.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Since gas prices fluctuate so much, the govt. could institute a 10 cent per gallon tax without telling anyone, and no one would notice.
      • 5 Years Ago
      How many of you in favor of raising the gas tax voluntarily send the government extra money right now? I'm guessing none of you. So why would you want them to force you?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Because one person doing it by himself is pissing in the wind. When everyone contributes, it will make a difference, whether for good or bad.

        There are plenty of good arguments against raising taxes. That is not one of them.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This assumes there is a valid reason for the U.S. military to be in Afghanistan and Iraq. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Osama, if he's still alive, is in Pakistan.
        • 5 Years Ago
        We broke Iraq even more thoroughly than Saddam already had. We have a responsibility to clean up the mess we made.
      • 5 Years Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      Have you never seen "Three Days of the Condor"? Watch it, and listen to Cliff Robertson's (Higgins) speech near the end:

      Turner: Do we have plans to invade the Middle East?
      Higgins: Are you crazy?
      Turner: Am I?
      Higgins: Look, Turner…
      Turner: Do we have plans?
      Higgins: No. Absolutely not. We have games. That's all. We play games. What if? How many men? What would it take? Is there a cheaper way to destabilize a regime? That's what we're paid to do.
      Turner: So Atwood just took the games too seriously. He was really going to do it, wasn't he?
      Higgins: A renegade operation. Atwood knew 54/12 would never authorize it, not with the heat on the company.
      Turner: What if there hadn't been any heat? Suppose I hadn't stumbled on their plan?
      Higgins: Different ballgame. Fact is, there was nothing wrong with the plan. Oh, the plan was all right, the plan would've worked.
      Turner: Boy, what is it with you people? You think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth?
      Higgins: No. It's simple economics. Today it's oil, right? In ten or fifteen years, food. Plutonium. And maybe even sooner. Now, what do you think the people are gonna want us to do then?
      Turner: Ask them.
      Higgins: Not now — then! Ask 'em when they're running out. Ask 'em when there's no heat in their homes and they're cold. Ask 'em when their engines stop. Ask 'em when people who have never known hunger start going hungry. You wanna know something? They won't want us to ask 'em. They'll just want us to get it for 'em!

      Remember this film was made in 1975!
        • 5 Years Ago
        Excellent reference. However it should be pointed out that going bankrupt now seriously limits all of your options then. Who is going to finance a military operation for you to take scarce resources that you can't afford to buy, with weapons you can no longer afford to make?
      • 5 Years Ago
      In principle consumption taxes are better than the alternate.

      In practice, this consumption tax won't be an alternate it will be an addition.

      The lawyers in DC steal enough of my money as it is. No more.

      • 5 Years Ago
      Considering the lack of public transportation in many areas, taxing gas will lead to inconvenience for many lower income families.
      • 5 Years Ago
      It's better to pay for the oil when we gas up then to pay for it in the lives of our soldiers in Iraq. As a veteran I have seen firsthand how our foreign policy has been dictated by our need for oil, and as a historian I know that nearly every war this country has fought in over the last 100 years has had ties to energy and in particular oil.

      It's about time that the US stop supporting countries that would ordinarily not be considered an ally simply because they have oil and make ourselves energy independent. If taxing oil helps achieve this then tax each barrel not by $5 or $25 by $100. That will be enough stimuli for the country to change its ways, and as the US has done time and time again create a new solution to an old problem. Maybe that it hybrid or electric vehicles or maybe there is a new bio-fuel but when faced with a financial opportunity the bright minds of this country have solved tougher issues in the past and in my opinion can solve the question of what can be used in place of oil – provided that there is a financial incentive.
      • 5 Years Ago
      or we could not raise tax, now theres a novel idea.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I agree that petrol is too cheap in the US. However I dot think the article focuses too much on a tax to pay for wars. What about not fighting endless wars without a clear exit plan inte first place? That saves a lto, them raise oil tax and then you can pay the debt.
      • 5 Years Ago
      John: I agree with your suggestion tononly tax imported oil. But under the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, I do not know if it is legal to increase the tax solely on imported oil. If anyone out there knows, it would be interesting to know for sure.

      from Albany, NY
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