Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, Republicans and political allies, are too busy pandering to voters to do anything meaningful about high gasoline prices. McCain wants to suspend collections of federal gas taxes this summer, and Crist favors doing the same at the state level. That might sound appealing to motorists whose budgets are stretched thin by the seemingly daily rise in the price of gas, but everyone needs to put a little more thought into this before they do more harm than good.
The federal gas tax is 18 cents a gallon and the Florida tax is 15 cents (not counting fractions). Yet even if those taxes were lifted temporarily and the savings passed on to consumers, gas would still be more than $3 a gallon.
If the few dollars in savings at each fill-up motivated motorists to drive more, the savings would be quickly eaten up and the increased demand would probably drive gas prices even higher. For such illusory gain, Floridians would lose tens, maybe hundreds, of millions of dollars in federal and state gas tax revenues that support road building and mass transportation.
Florida couldn't make up the lost revenue; it already has seen tax revenue decline by more than $2.5-billion and lawmakers are considering raiding transportation funds to pay for other costs. That makes Crist's quick decision to echo McCain on suspending gas taxes even more contradictory.
Only recently, Crist was stating his case for a vigorous response to global warming fed by fossil fuel use. Here's what he said the other day about the gas tax cut: "It's outrageous how expensive (gas) is. And our dependence on foreign oil is ridiculous."
But the more politicians encourage increased gasoline consumption, the more we will be dependent on foreign oil. It's a simple supply-demand formula. Blame the rhetorical fever fed by a presidential election year, but McCain and Crist are offering simplistic sound bites that cannot be taken seriously. It will be painful to kick our oil addiction, and they should focus on real solutions.