DC AT WORK: Being Punished for Cheap Gas

Written by Chuck Gruenwald on January 17, 2015

The words “Shared sacrifice” haven’t been uttered by politicians, at least not according to sound bites on news broadcasts, in a few years. In the world of politics, shared sacrifice means screwing over taxpayers a second time, in an uninspired attempt to fix the damage caused by screwing them over the first time.

Last week, news stories about politicians from both parties who are willing to consider a federal fuel tax hike brought back memories of when elected officials openly stated that shared sacrifice was needed to fix the economy, as well as dysfunctional government. After six-plus years of an increasing cost of living, plus stagnant incomes levels, the sudden decline in fuel costs have been a welcome change, and an opportunity for politicians to express their true nature.

During the first days of four dollar per gallon gas, an individual with leftist political beliefs stated on Facebook that high fuel prices were revenge on rich people who drove expensive cars that burned a lot of fuel; he found comfort in believing that the upper class was somehow suffering due to high gas prices. In response, I told him about contractors and other tradesmen who need big trucks that consume large amounts of fuel in order to make a living. I also reminded him that such people were having a hard time making a living during that low point in the economy. His response to my comments was, “I have to look into that.”

When asked about the hardship that such a steep tax increase may place on self-employed contractors, the flippant response “pass the cost on to the customers” is expected. Unfortunately, the construction industry is flooded with illegal immigrants who are working for much less pay than independent businessmen who are expected to obey all labor laws. This disparity between legal and illegal labor makes the option of passing new costs of doing business impossible.

When Charles Krauthammer wrote an editorial that praised a one dollar per gallon tax increase, two thoughts came to mind.

First, the thought of how those tradesmen who need heavy trucks to make a living would continue to face punishment for no other reason than their intention to hold a necessary line of work. And second, one doesn’t have to hold elected office in order to lose touch with an ordinary American citizens’ reality, if that person lives in the politicians’ and journalists’ bubbles of Washington D.C. or New York. Any tax increase on a product that makes our economy possible, such as fuel, would have a disproportionate burden on lower and middle class taxpayers; not having to depend upon a vehicle to earn a livelihood isolates politicians and journalists from the hardships that haunt most Americans.

As for politicians who believe that this is a good time for a tax hike, perhaps a brief lesson as to why there is a decline in fuel tax revenue is in order.

The federal government has mandated that new cars meet increasing fuel economy standards. As those standards rise, demand for fuel decreases, along with tax revenue. In other words, the federal government has created its own problem. How is shared sacrifice a justifiable response to a problem that taxpayers share no responsibility for?

If fuel economy standards are rescinded, yes economy cars will still sell, but old markets for heavier vehicles may reopen. As people drive vehicles that need more fuel, taxpayers will buy more fuel. If fuel taxes are lowered on fuel, but people use more fuel, tax revenue will increase.

And just because a new car is smaller than its counterparts from the eighties or earlier, doesn’t mean that it is lighter or consumes less fuel.

A new Ford Taurus may have a cramped interior and poor visibility from the driver’s seat, but it could weigh as much as 4,500 pounds, depending on the model. A larger 1977-1990 Chevrolet Caprice weighs about 3,900 pounds. That extra weight needs extra fuel in order to move from Point A to Point B. If today’s advances in engines and transmissions are used in a car that has the dimensions of those Caprices, then there is a possibility that such a car could revive the true full-size car class; the free market should dictate this decision, not government restrictions.

Dropping fuel prices have also highlighted the hypocrisy in spreading blame, and hording undeserved credit.

When gas prices were on the rise in 2009 after falling below two dollars per gallon, the media showed little panic compared to the spike to two dollars around 2000. In the 2000-era hike, blame was habitually pinned to the “oil man,” presidential candidate and eventual President, George W. Bush by his critics in politics and journalism. This criticism didn’t factor-in the energy crisis in California that had a ripple effect on the economy of the rest of the U.S.

As the price of one gallon of gas increased from about $1.70 up to four dollars-plus, President Barack Obama and his supporters in the media stated that a president has little influence on the price of fuel. And like the California energy crisis in 2000, the media refused to factor-in the Obama Administration’s moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon fire and resulting oil spill, as well as federal restrictions on drilling on federally-owned land, and the continued practice of using summer and winter-blended gasoline.

However, this last week found Mr. Obama trying to take credit for an action that he had said repeatedly in the past that he has no control over. Plus, some news stories have been written about how low gas prices are bad for the economy.

Dropping gas prices has helped a lot of taxpayers, especially those who need to drive for a living and/or have not seen a pay increase in a while. The last thing that Americans need at this time is to bear the burden of paying for the mistakes of politicians who have no concept of self-sacrifice.

Image: swanksavings.com


Born in Chicago and raised in northwest suburban Cook County, Chuck Gruenwald developed an unfavorable opinion of machine politics quite early in life. In addition to cars, electronics, law enforcement, and politics, Chuck enjoys writing, and is also a horse racing fan. He has recently written op-eds for uncommonshow.com