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Pioneer Editorial: Why blame gov't for high gas prices?

For some reason, Republicans want to blame government for the high price of gasoline. At least, so it seems.

A couple dozen state Republican lawmakers, led by Rep. Paul Kohls, R-Victoria, said Tuesday they would author legislation yet this session to have the state's 20-cent-a-gallon gas tax "blink off" for six months, from July 1 to Dec. 31, to help motorists who now are paying around $2.75 a gallon for gasoline.

The move comes on the heels of U.S. House Republicans -- led by Rep. Mark Kennedy of Minnesota, the leading GOP contender for retiring DFL U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton's seat -- push to suspend the 18.4-cent federal gas tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

At least at the federal level, the gap in funds for highway projects would be made up from currently uncollected deep-water lease royalty fees and not by diverting funds from another federal budget area.

Kohls, to replace the Minnesota gas tax, would use the $317 million tax relief account to replace lost funds to the state's highway user trust fund -- a move which definitely would find somebody else short. The money currently is spoken for in other legislation passed by the House, to give property taxpayers a "rebate check" just weeks before the Nov. 7 election. But that measure is contingent on the Supreme Court allowing the state to continue to collect its "fee" on cigarette packs. Kohls also makes his provision contingent on the court's final decision. As a result, if the court calls the "fee" in violation of an agreement with Big Tobacco, then both property taxpayers and motorists are out.

Kohls said he offers his position as an alternative to the rebate, which the DFL-led Senate probably won't accept. But it should also not accept Kohls' short-term gimmick over legislation that will reform property taxes to the future, and not offer one-time "gimmes." Even the GOP-led House is moving in cross directions, as its Taxes Committee recently approved a two-step increase in the gas tax, 6 cents over the next 14 months.

But what is really troubling is the need to put the blame at government's feet. Kohls notes that his bill, in addition to Kennedy's federal effort, would save Minnesotans 40.4 cents a gallon. Meanwhile, Big Oil is making record profits and both Minnesota and the nation lack an aggressive energy policy to move us away from dependence on $70 a barrel foreign oil. Sure, now there is talk, but we should have been driving on the alternative and renewable fuels road a long time ago.

A gas tax "holiday" is only a temporary move, and does nothing to prevent retail gas prices from climbing in the interim to replace the gap left by the not-collected taxes, making it even more difficult to restore the taxes after the "holiday."

Cutting taxes is always popular, but only if there is no longer a reason to collect them. That's not the case here.