Tuesday, July 08, 2008

We Feel Your Pain… But: An Examination of a Courant Editorial

The Courant editorial is called “Have Another Drink,” and it draws a parallel between the consumption of alcohol and gas.

And what’s wrong with that?

The suggestion is that those who drive cars are addicted to gas in the same sense that drunks are addicted to alcohol. There are some differences: Alcohol is not a necessity, except for those who have fallen into the bottle, and gasoline, a by product of oil, is a necessity, pending the invention and mass production and availability of cars that run on air, water or fairy dust.

The premise of the editorial is that alternative transportation sources are not likely to be developed in the absence of some need. Gas at $14 a gallon, (the price in Ireland and much of Europe) to pick a random figure, is likely to produce such a need. Therefore, any attempt to lower gas prices to a level that decreases the pain of shelling out $14 for a gallon of it would be, as the progressives say, not in the public interest.

Got a problem with that?

Well, yes. The strategy may end up creating an intolerable pain, not a need. This is the kind of thing that produces revisionist backlashes. Here is the Courant’s narrative: 1) Public transportation is better than private transportation because it is less polluting; 2) if you provide public transportation, people will take advantage of it. Build it and they will come; 3) so long as gas is abundant and cheap, there is no need to develop alternative transportation sources; 4) such sources – rail lines, for instance, that will carry people to and from work in urban areas, so as to avoid Hellish sprawl – are highly desirable for a whole host of reasons we have addressed sufficiently in other editorials. Please review them, and pay attention; 5) these resources cannot be developed so long as people rest comfortably in their usual ruts; 6) soaring gas prices ignite the kind of progress we like; 7) therefore, high gas prices should be a reason for celebration, not cause of lamentation.

Into this narrative now come troglodyte tax-axing Republicans.

The Republican Party in Connecticut has proposed ameliorating the pain felt by nutmeggers caught in the gas vise by capping the wholesale price of gas at $3.40 a gallon, well below the European ceiling. While this measure may not prevent evil gas companies from raising the price of gas further, it will prevent the evil state from hauling in more tax money as the price increases.

The Courant has responded to this measure with a hearty guffaw.

“Pardon us for being skeptical,” the paper says. The Courant doubts the tax cut will be passed on to the tax consumer. Any tax cut, the paper asserts, will deplete “transportation improvement funds.”

Actually, the proposed measure is not a tax cut; it is a measure that will thwart further tax increases as the price of gas rises, not quite the same thing. The paper’s supposition that the so called “tax cut” will deplete “transportation improvement funds” is grounded in a false premise. The tax Republicans want to cap flows into the general fund. There is in Connecticut no tax fund dedicated to transportation improvements.

Even if scoundrelly Republicans are successful in their effort to prevent state government from feasting off the misery of the people, the state itself could dedicate more money from the general fund to finance the Courant’s vision. That, of course would blow a hole in the state budget that could be filled if the Courant would agitate among tax consumers, mostly public employees, to make real sacrifices for the sake of rail transit and Connecticut’s bright future as seen from the rose colored windows of the Courant’s home office, which has not yet been vacated and put on the selling block by its new owner, real estate magnate Sam Zell.

Pardon us for being skeptical.
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