Jim Hartman: Cortez Masto’s gas tax ‘phony gimmick’

Jim Hartman

Jim Hartman
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Nevada Democrat U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, running for re-election this year, has joined with three other vulnerable Senate Democrats in co-sponsoring the Gas Prices Relief Act to temporarily suspend the federal gas tax through the end of 2022.
Co-sponsors include Democratic Sens. Mark Kelly (Ariz.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.) and Raphael Warnock (Ga.), also up for election this year.
The legislation would suspend the $18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax for 10 months through Jan. 1, 2023. That’s long enough to get them past tough re-elections in November.
It’s phony. The bill would not actually change the price of gas in Nevada. That’s because Nevada law (NRS 365.185) automatically increases the state gas tax “equal to the amount by which the federal tax is reduced.” It won’t save Nevadans a cent.
The highest rate of inflation in 40 years has Democrats scrambling to defend their control of the Senate, and supporters see the gas tax measure as a populist quick fix with voters.
It’s a terrible idea. No one likes paying taxes or feeling gouged at the pump, and that’s the appeal to politicians. It’s a transparent political stunt to give political cover to a handful of Democrats up for election in states where gas prices are going up over 40 percent from last year.
Nevada’s gas prices are up $1.07 per gallon from a year ago, reaching an average price in Nevada for regular of $3.97 (Feb. 23). Crude prices recently passed $90 per barrel and the Russian invasion of Ukraine will raise crude prices to over $100.
Cortez Masto’s legislation is a contradiction in her climate politics. Isn’t the central tenet of Democratic climate plans to raise the price of fossil fuels so we use less? Progressives should welcome higher gasoline prices until consumption drops dramatically.
You can’t have an aggressive “green” climate policy and cheap gasoline. You must choose one or the other.
There’s another irony in Senate Democrats like Cortez Masto wanting to suspend the gas tax while at the same time supporting President Biden’s Build Back Better Act that would impose multiple new taxes on U.S. oil and gas.
The U.S. was the largest producer of oil before the pandemic. Now that distinction goes to Saudi Arabia, as U.S. producers have cut investment in an increasingly hostile political climate.
The Biden administration has slowed approval of oil and gas permits, halted leases on federal lands, suspended leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and advanced financial regulation to deny capital to oil and gas companies.
Senate Republicans have labeled suspending the gas tax a “phony gimmick” when the Biden administration should be addressing gasoline prices by encouraging more U.S. energy production.
“It doesn’t make any sense. It’s not going to change anything,” says Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), raising concerns about the fiscal impact of the tax cut.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan group advocating for deficit reduction, estimates suspending the gas tax for the rest of the year would cost $20 billion. A gas tax holiday would deprive the Highway Trust Fund of $20 billion to pay for roads, bridges and mass transit.
The trust fund already spends more than it takes in, putting it on schedule to go broke by 2027. Suspending the gas tax would advance insolvency to 2026.
Democrats would do well to follow the example of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama who torched the idea of a temporary gas tax holiday in 2008, when proposed by both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain.
Obama had the backbone to mock it as “a gimmick that would save you (the cost of) half a tank of gas over the course of an entire summer.” His unlikely ally was then-President George W. Bush.
For Nevadans, Cortez Masto’s gas tax bill is worthless.
E-mail Jim Hartman at lawdocman1@aol.com.


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