Gas tax repeal good first step for New Mexico

By Ned Cantwell

About every third day some well-intentioned soul sends me an e-mail forward, the intent of which is to suggest I should be thankful it costs only $67.87 to fill up my small pickup.

Well, I am not grateful, so stick that in your tank. The idea, I think, is to remind me that gas is a real bargain compared to such products as milk and peanut butter.

Problem with that is a gallon of milk will last me a week and a jar of peanut butter the better part of a year, so those products increasing at a rate higher than the annual inflation rate won’t cause me to start skipping my meds.

Too, if I learned the CEO of Bossy the Cow Dairy was taking unholy bonuses based on obscene profits, I would switch brands or stop drinking milk altogether, which would have the side benefit of cutting down on Oreo consumption.

Not so with the gas distributors. The gas gougers got me because I have no other way of getting to the grocery store to buy the milk and peanut butter and Oreos. So when I learn ExxonMobile banked profits of $36 billion last year, and that CEO Lee Raymond ripped off a retirement package worth $400 million, there is little to do but fill up and grimace.

It serves little but the purpose of warm and fuzzy nostalgia to recall that in the 1906s gas was going for 31 cents a gallon, you could get a new home for under $20,000, and that gallon of milk rang up at a whopping 49 cents.

Still, that recitation has a purpose. The low gas price, coupled with a new affluence, spawned an age where just about every kid had a car and he spent most of his time driving it. That led to “cruising,” a coming of age rite memorialized in American Graffiti. Surely, today’s high gas prices will put the brakes on that tradition. It may be God’s way of saying boom boxes are disturbing the heavens.

Today’s crisis has nothing to do with kids cruising or my getting to the store for milk. It has to do with struggling families strapped for cash, trying to find a way to get to work.

Someone needs to do something about it. The answers don’t come easy. In New Mexico, a group of Republican lawmakers thinks it is time to repeal the gasoline tax of 17 cents a gallon. There is solid logic to that. The state coffers are bulging, thanks partly to taxes gained from higher oil and gas prices. If the state no longer needs the tax revenue, why not give it back to the people who pay it?

Gas tax repeal falls far short of solving the problem, but it makes sense. Gov. Bill Richardson doesn’t like it much. He says it would cause the state “legal problems,” but there is another issue. The tax idea was voiced by Republican Rep. Dan Foley. Richardson and Dan Foley are the New Mexico equivalent of Howard Dean and George Bush. The guv won’t be enraptured by many Foley brainstorms.

Big Bill, so light on his feet that he is the Fred Astaire of modern politics, botched this one. Trying to dance around the Foley plan, he said, “If there is enough sentiment in New Mexico, we will take some steps.”
Sentiment? We’re way past sentiment, Bill. Think creeping hysteria.

Ned Cantwell spent the late 1950s cruising Southern California streets. Contact him at: ncantwell@charter.net