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Editorial: Gas pump politicking

Are at least half of the voters smarter than two-thirds of the presidential candidates?
When it comes to the issue of rising gasoline costs, it would appear so, based on a new poll gauging reaction to recent calls for a gas-tax holiday by Sens. John McCain and Hillary Clinton. Both of them have recently touted temporary suspension of the 18.4-cents-a-gallon federal gasoline as a way to provide relief for shell-shocked consumers. While such a proposal may make for good, high-octane politics, in reality it’s a bad idea that won’t provide any real relief at the pump and might even result in a subsequent price jump, as many people accurately perceive.
Suspending the tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day, as the two candidates have proposed (Sen. Barack Obama has criticized the idea as a “gimmick”), would offer scant relief as fuel prices climb toward $4 a gallon. The actual pocketbook benefit, according to state transportation officials, would be about $28 per motorist over the summer driving season. That doesn’t take into account the potential downsides of a gas-tax holiday. For one thing, it would reduce money going into the federal highway trust fund at a time when the nation confronts a growing backlog of road and bridge maintenance projects. (Senator Clinton has proposed offsetting the gasoline-tax holiday through an excess-profits tax on oil companies ó and idea that may whip up grassroots appeal but isn’t likely to get anywhere in Congress.) What’s even more shortsighted ó and suggests the candidates are willing to flout basic laws of supply and demand ó is that the tax holiday could lead to further spikes in the gasoline price by spurring demand during our peak driving period.
Fortunately, many drivers know better. A recent CBS/New York Times poll found that 49 percent of voters nationally thought the gas-tax holiday was a bad idea, with 45 percent being in favor of it. Even though they’re caught in the crunch of surging gasoline prices, motorists who oppose the holiday aren’t trying to disguise the economic reality that appears in danger of getting lost in election-year politics: What the nation needs isn’t a gas-tax holiday. It needs sensible energy policies that will help wean the United States off its dependency on imported oil while financing much-needed improvements to our transportation infrastructure.

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