As the national debate over energy continues during this election season, we need to keep in mind the implications for our families and businesses here our region.
As I write this editorial, I have just arrived in California. Gas prices appear to be around $2.69 a gallon. I just filled up before I left town at $1.85. Based on this spread in price of gas, filling up my 25-gallon tank 30 times per year, the difference for me alone is about $700. This is why President Obama’s recent proposal to increase the federal tax on oil is dangerous and will have major impacts on us locally. And we need to educate our federal representatives on the need to ensure this job-stifling, economy-crushing idea never becomes reality.
The $10.25 per barrel tax on oil increase that President Obama has proposed will put the proverbial brakes on our economic recovery, and will likely reverse any gains we’ve experienced thanks to the much lauded reduction in fuel prices this past year.
And it won’t just effect us at the gas pump. Our rich agricultural heritage here in Central Washington is a tremendous source of pride for those of us fortunate enough to live, work, and raise our families here. Just as important, agriculture is the economic force that puts food on our table that too will be adversely effected by a gas tax hike And not just here in our region, but throughout the state and beyond. In fact, Washington’s agricultural products as exports are second only to aerospace.
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The fact is, higher fuel prices always lead to product inflation. They also affect every aspect of product transportation. This is especially true in the Columbia Basin, where our ability to plant, harvest, process and bring to market agricultural bounty is heavily reliant — at all stages of the process — upon affordable and predictable fuel prices. That stability is essential to managing these businesses. Allow the government to artificially boost their fuel costs, and business and agriculture operating margins will disappear. That, in turn, will force them to raise their prices on on us, the consumer. It will also remove their ability to hire a larger workforce or make other important investments in growing our businesses.
Not enough has been said during this national debate on energy about the life-saving role of low fuel prices this past year. As I have experienced here in California, the savings per gallon has a real impact. Are President Obama, Sens. Murray and Cantwell and other national leaders prepared to explain why industrious families no longer need that extra money? If so, it’s not going to be an easy argument to make.
It won’t be the oil companies that will bear this burden. Especially since the industry is scrambling with low crude prices stretching everything they have to keep the wells going. Again, this cost will be passed to us. Many credible studies over the years have concluded that taxes on energy are borne disproportionately by those who can least afford them. If the “median family” spends 5 cents of every dollar on energy, low-income families are on the hook for closer to 20 cents on the dollar. Increasing that burden will be devastating for families most in need.
If my fellow Tri-City residents need additional evidence that we can ill afford this tax increase, perhaps President Obama’s words at a speech a few years ago will provide it: “rising prices at the pump affect everybody — workers, farmers, truck drivers, restaurant owners, students … for Americans that are already struggling to get by, a hike in gas prices really makes their lives that much harder. It hurts.”
True then. True today.
Colin Hastings is the Executive Director of the Pasco Chamber of Commerce.