Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Taxing Big Oil A Political Plus: Goal Could Be Better

Gov. Jim Doyle deserves praise for putting a tax on big oil into his 2007-'09 proposed state budget.

It's important to press the case that the major oil companies are making large profits when retail prices are at record levels.

Let the oil companies explain their profit margins, their transfer of numbers across ledgers to subsidiaries and out-of-state operations.

Making them explain how they are making super-profits when motorists are feeling the pinch is political win for Doyle and an education for consumers.

Furthermore, Doyle's plan has split the business community, which works to the Democrats' advantage because in nine case out of ten, big business is united against Doyle or Democrats' priorities.

On the one hand the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, with rightwing bloggers and talk show hosts in lock-step, have blasted Doyle's plan, showing that anti-tax ideology, not consumerism, rules much of the Right.

On the other hand, the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, applauds the new tax on big oil because without a fresh source of revenue, Wisconsin's hyperactive road-building binge will come up billions short.

The demands of the unfunded southeastern Wisconsin freeway expansion project alone will drain most of the state's highway-building budgets for decades - - a situation made worse if rising gas prices dampen demand and send per-gallon gas tax receipts into the tank.

There are many unknowns in Doyle's plan. The constitutionality of assessing the tax is open to question. So is whether the tax can be kept off the consumer's back, or collected easily.

But to make sure that the new revenue stream isn't just more gravy for road-builders, legislators from cities with transit needs should argue that most of the tax on big oil is funneled into fuel-saving, cleaner mass transit.

And into health-care programs that deal with asthma and other illnesses prevalent in central cities near major highways, where years of fuel emissions have added to added social and medical costs.

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