Taking it (off) personally

Muzzling the gas guzzling

Windfall profits … an interesting phrase. Now that I’m working for myself instead of for the man (or woman), part of me would certainly like to have such a business profit windfall myself. But when a company is already doing pretty well and then getting even more from those of us who are paying our pretty pennies for their product, the transaction and system that created it gets attention. That’s what happened when five major oil companies reported earnings of almost $33 billion in the third quarter of the year while motorists in some areas ponied up $3-plus for a gallon of gas.

Oil executives, looking their stuffy, stereotypical robber-baron best, showed up on Capitol Hill recently to defend their business models (if you’ve got 6½ hours and no life, you can watch a video of the proceeding). But some members of Congress, from both sides of the aisle, weren’t persuaded and a few days later the Senate Finance Committee approved a $5 billion tax to go into effect next year on the country's biggest oil companies. Sure, the Republican writers of the bill don’t call their measure a windfall profits tax; that’s what was levied on oil companies by Democratic President Jimmy Carter back in 1980 (it continued until 1988). When the full Senate examined the tax measure containing the oil company provision, Democrats tried to expand it to more Carter-era proportions but were defeated. The next question: Can the Senate convince its more stridently anti-tax House counterpart to accept even the smaller, one-year tax?

Even if ExxonMobil, Shell, BPAmerica, et al. do end up paying the tax, will it really help you and me? The cynic in me says no, that no amount of fiscal wrist-slapping is really going to affect the pump prices we face. Apple and orange arguments will explain why there’s no valid correlation. And are we really all that worried about gas prices anyway? Sure, we grumble about how fast the numbers click off on the price side of the pump compared to the quantity that goes into our tank, a perverse, smelly version of a casino slot machine on methamphetamines, eating up more and more of the money we happily push into it. Let’s be honest: We may make a few grudging concessions to auto travel, but we’re still driving. And gasoline’s cost has abated a bit of late, so we can deal. We’ve got to because what’s the alternative? Alternative fuel? C’mon. Most Americans are decidedly not a very conservative lot when it comes to using or preserving natural resources.

If you truly are looking for a way to cut gas costs, consider a hybrid. Although there is some debate on just how fuel- and environmentally-efficient they are, it’s a start, you’ll feel better about your driving, and Leonardo will be happy. Plus, you’ll at least get a tax break for trying, as I discuss in this story. The breaks get better for some drivers next tax year; I’ll examine that in a coming article.

Or you can eschew petroleum altogether and aspire to follow the two-wheel tracks of my fellow Texan Lance Armstrong. Happy pedaling!


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