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At a Pump Near You: A 'Solve-Everything' Tax

OPINION features excerpts of pieces by columnists from the Op-Ed page and other sections of The New York Times. All columns from the last seven days are available at nytimes.com; Op-Ed pieces (by columnists and outside contributors), plus Editorials and Letters to the Editor, are at nytimes.com/opinion. Please let us know what you think of OPINION at upfront@scholastic.com.

I have a proposal to save energy, cut air pollution, reduce highway fatalities, and, while we're at it, reform Social Security. All we have to do is raise the federal gasoline tax by 50 cents per gallon and refund all the new revenue directly to Americans by putting it in new Social Security individual accounts. I realize how crazy this sounds, given the current public anger with high gas prices, but bear with me. Many experts say the $3 per gallon price isn't going to last, that the price will end up sooner or later back around $2 per gallon. Suppose you gradually phase in the tax only when prices fall. Consumers would still see their costs declining at the pump, so there would be no sudden shock at any tax increase. Some people would complain but at least they'd get their money back. A gas tax makes people drive less, not only saving gas but also easing road congestion and reducing pollution. One expert says a 50-cent tax increase would yield $70 billion in extra revenue annually. There would be enough to put about $440 into the personal account of every worker now paying into Social Security. A gasoline tax could fix Social Security—and save the planet.
—John Tierney [10/04/05]