On Record: They’re not buying it

Thank god for Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator John McCain.

These two presidential candidates (well, at least at press time) proposed – and were almost universally derided for – a summer gas tax holiday. The idea set off the horse-hockey-puck meter in newspapers from Baltimore to Sacramento.

Let’s wallow a bit in the comments made about this nonsense – which would have saved the average taxpayer about $30 by eliminating the 18.4 cents per gallon of gas they pay in federal taxes from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

The phrase of choice among editorial writers was “pandering to voters.” The Baltimore Sun called it “such a spectacularly bad idea that it’s hard to believe it’s getting serious consideration.” “It’s more of a thought balloon than a plan,” declared The Oregonian, Portland, Oregon.

“A quick-fix approach like the gas-tax holiday might make sense if there any evidence that oil at more than $100 a barrel is a passing phenomenon,” The Boston Globe argued. “But energy analysts say high prices mainly reflect increased demand from China, India and other quick-growing countries. By slightly reducing the cost of gasoline to U.S. consumers, the tax holiday will only increase consumption, with the likely result that the pump price might not drop at all.”

Other reactions continued the derision. “There are few tax cuts we don’t like, but this one smacks of poll-driven gimmickry,” the Wall Street Journal sniffed. And the Tacoma, Washington, News Tribune, pointing out that the holiday would cost the highway trust fund an estimated $9 billion, asked, “does anybody think drivers will be better off on roadways suffering $9 billion worth of further neglect?”

Finally, from a newspaper on the front lines of last year’s most prominent infrastructure debacle: “The markets are naturally pushing the nation toward conservation and energy independence,” wrote the Minneapolis, Minnesota, Star Tribune. “Proposals for a federal gas tax holiday threaten to derail this momentum, siphon money from roads and divert energy from the real solutions the country is moving toward. That’s too high a price to pay to add pennies to voter’s pockets.”

OK – enough. You get that they didn’t like it.

Of course, just because the journalists hate an idea doesn’t mean Joe Taxpayer agrees. But in a May 3rd survey by The New York Times/CBS News, 49 percent of all respondents said the holiday was a bad idea, 45 percent said it was a good idea and 5 percent said they didn’t know. That’s hardly a mandate, but neither is it the kind of support that brings a political campaign into safe harbor. Those writing letters to the editor on the subject just weren’t buying it. Some pointed out that our gas taxes should be even higher – not to build better roads, mind you, but as a gas consumption deterrent.

This is good news. Maybe I’m stirring the tea leafs too optimistically, but this indicates there’s a growing common sense that 1.) we need roads and 2.) we have to pay for them. And that, as simple as it sounds, could make all the difference as next year’s highway bill debate gets heated.