Time to Raise the Gas Tax?
The Kansas City Star reports on the approbation that commentators from varying political camps are showering on a proposal to increase the gas tax. Given that the economy has been in bad shape lately, some are suggesting that the increase should be revenue-neutral, with money returned to taxpayers through a rebate or similar mechanism. Here’s a quote from one supporter:
“There are tremendous benefits for the environment, for the economy, for energy independence and national security” from that approach, said Dan Rosenblum of the Carbon Tax Center, which supports higher levies on all carbon-based energy.
Two things bother me about this reasoning. First, I don’t believe a $1 or $2 tax increase would afford tremendous benefits. Slight benefits? Maybe. People would buy less gasoline, but they would still buy gasoline. Cars would continue to pollute the environment. The U.S. would continue to buy oil from OPEC, which in fact has little or no bearing on our national security. (I don’t see any petroleum executives trying to blow up buildings, do you?) If you want to improve the economy, the environment, or foreign relations, it’s better to confront those issues head-on instead of waiting for a small change in driving habits to solve the problem.
Second, even if the benefits would be substantial, that’s a bad reason to impose a tax. The purpose of taxes is to raise money for the many worthwhile things the government does. If it’s necessary for people’s driving habits to change in order to keep us safe or whatever, then we need a new law to state that explicitly. Legislators shouldn’t use taxes as a sneaky way to trick people into doing what they want.