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Young backtracks on pitch to raise federal gas tax
By R. A. Dillon
Published Friday, May 9, 2008
Fairbanks Daily News Miner

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Congressman Don Young says he has no intention of introducing legislation that would increase the amount of federal tax drivers pay at the pump, despite his comments earlier in the week that raising the gasoline tax would curb demand.
"I want to make perfectly clear. I have not and have no intention of introducing a bill to increase the gas tax," Young said in a prepared statement released Thursday.
On Tuesday, Young told members of a House transportation subcommittee they should consider adding 72 cents to the federal gasoline tax to alter Americans' driving habits and reduce the nation's reliance on foreign oil.
"If we want to solve the problem and quit pandering to the general public ... I suggest we raise the taxes to $1 a gallon," Young told colleagues. "That makes you put your money where your mouth is."
Young, who made his comments during a hearing on the record-high cost of diesel fuel, said hiking the 18-cent federal gasoline tax would encourage "people to stop driving like idiots."
"I will promote a tax so that the general public will slow down, will change their driving habits, will drive a different vehicle and we will save fuel," he said.
Young said he would exempt diesel fuel from the tax hike to protect commercial truckers.
"I worry about the truckers," he said, "but I am not worried about the general public when it comes down to how they misuse the fossil fuels that are left."
The proposal drew criticism from Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, who said Young was "out of touch" with Alaskans and with the state of the economy in general.
"People are already on edge right now," Parnell said in a prepared statement. "Voters are taxed enough already and his proposal just leaves you shaking your head."
Parnell, who is challenging Young in the Republican primary for the state's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, said he was surprised to hear the incumbent call for a tax increase when gas prices were already at record highs across Alaska.
The other GOP candidate in the House race, state Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, also blasted Young over his comments.
"I think the idea of raising gasoline taxes right now when we're over $6 a gallon in some of the villages just shows a total disconnect over what ordinary people are going through," she said.
Young said the comments were taken out of context and that he brought it up simply to engage his fellow committee members in a debate on the need to boost domestic energy supplies to deal with soaring prices.
"My point about raising the gas tax was to draw attention to the fact that if we do nothing to create new supplies of energy, then all that is left is to address the demand side of the equation," he said. "My comments were intended to wake up the hearing and wake up Congress."
Congress is grappling with how give voters reeling from surging gas prices some relief at the pump. Republicans and Democrats have released competing energy plans, but analysts have panned both packages as political pandering that is unlikely to become law anytime soon.
Most analysts blame rising pump prices on the cost of crude oil, which climbed above $120 a barrel this week.
Young and other Republicans have called for expanding domestic drilling of oil and gas offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to deal with tight supply.
"We don't have a reserve, refinery capacity and we have no ability to increase supply," Young said. "We have a lot of oil in this nation, but we have not developed it."
Democrats, who hold a majority in the House, oppose opening ANWR and new offshore areas to oil and gas drilling.
Democrats blocked an attempt by Young on Wednesday to offer an amendment in the House Natural Resources Committee that would have allowed drilling in the coastal plain of ANWR. The proposal failed 12-18 mostly along party lines.
The concern over the impact of record pump prices on voters has become a central theme of the presidential campaigns.
Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and John McCain, R-Arizona, are both advocating for a summer holiday from the federal gas tax.
Economists and energy policy experts have dismissed the idea of a 180-day break from the gas tax as unsound fiscal policy that's unlikely to lower prices at the pump even in the short-term.
An aide to Young said the congressman considers the proposal nothing more than "populist political posturing" that won't provide relief for drivers.
However, Parnell and LeDoux both said they favored giving voters a summer holiday from the motor fuel tax.
"I think any relief we can give Alaskans is welcome in these times of high fuel costs," Parnell said.
Parnell said he disagrees with economists who claim temporary respite from the gas-tax, which provides revenue for the national highway fund, won't help consumers.
"Taxpayers know better how to spend their money," he said. "Putting a little more in Alaskans' pockets is a good thing."
LeDoux agreed.
"With the price of gas the way it is, every single cent helps," she said.
The price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in Fairbanks on Thursday was between $3.79 and $3.92. Diesel was selling for about $4.40 a gallon.
Nationally, the average price for regular unleaded hit $3.65 a gallon, while diesel was $4.25 a gallon.
The state levies an 8-cent-a-gallon tax on gasoline, the lowest in the nation.

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