Bill Clinton Makes Blacks Pay More at the Pump
By Stuart Pigler
A New Visions Commentary paper published July 2000 by The National Center for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Ct., N.E., Washington, DC 20002, 202/543-4110, Fax 202-543-5975, E-Mail Project21@nationalcenter.org, Web http://www.nationalcenter.org. Reprints permitted provided source is credited.
With gasoline prices rising to well over two dollars a gallon in the Midwestern United States, America's love affair with the automobile may be headed toward a break-up. But before we ditch our wheels, we should first demand the government get rid of policies helping to drive up fuel prices.
Our biggest roadblock to reforming gas prices is Bill Clinton. Although he says he understands the needs of poor and minority citizens, his energy and regulatory policies hurt us more than any other segment of the population. And he has fought hard to protect these hurtful programs from attempts to repeal them.
We can't just blame the Arabs or the oil companies for gouging us. Much of the problem is the fault of overburdening taxes and government regulations that are driving the price of gas through the roof. Poor and minority consumers are being forced to spend a larger portion of their budgets to handle it than anyone else.
Unlike income taxes that take your money according to how much you earn, sales taxes make everyone pay the same rate. Billionaire Bill Gates pays the same taxes on a gallon of gas as a black single mother in South Central Los Angeles, but the single mom will be spending a substantially larger portion of her budget at the pump than Gates. The fact that so many independent truckers have been forced off the road because they cannot afford to drive proves how bad the problem is getting.
Federal and state gas taxes on a gallon of gasoline now average 43 cents a gallon. In the 1990s alone, gas taxes rose 16 cents a gallon. In addition, a federal mandate that gasoline contain the additive MTBE raises the cost by an additional ten cents. Not to scare anybody, but the Clinton Administration also signed the United Nation's Kyoto Protocol - to fight the unproven theory of global warming - that could potentially double the future price of gasoline! Congress has so far refused to ratify the Protocol, but the White House is still trying to force government compliance through executive action.
To combat current high gasoline prices, Indiana Governor Frank L. O'Bannon suspended his state's 5% sales tax for the summer. In Washington, however, Clinton and his supporters have fought attempts in Congress to repeal the 4.3-cent tax he imposed at the beginning of his presidency. Trying to spin the issue, the White House is blaming the oil companies for high prices. The Federal Trade Commission is conducting a formal investigation of high prices, but there's no denying that taxes and regulations are still an enormous chunk of the cost of every gallon we buy.
In addition to gas tax cuts, another way the government could ease high gas prices is to increase the oil supply by allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. Only 2,000 acres of the 19 million-acre refuge - just over 0.01% - would be used and it could replace Saudi oil imports for 30 years. But the federal government won't allow it.
In 1995, Clinton Administration Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt justified barring drilling in the ANWR, saying, "it doesn't appear that [oil] prices will [be] topping $30 [a barrel] in the foreseeable future. In fact, the U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Agency predicts oil prices will be only $19.13 by the year 2000." Last March, however, oil prices went over $34 a barrel. Still, the Clinton Administration is not willing to cut people a break by allowing drilling in the ANWR.
By the way, don't think we're just talking about gas prices rising. The trucks bringing goods to market are costing more to run, and this cost will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices for clothes, food and other necessities. Once again, it will be the people least able to deal with these price hikes who will be reaching deeper into their budgets just to get by.
Unless the government changes its tune, we can expect to pay a lot more for a lot of things. The Clinton Administration's disregard for the more disenfranchised segments of the population shows that the President favors his policies over real people. So much for feeling our pain.
Stuart Pigler is a member of Project 21's National Advisory Board and the director of community development of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies. He can be r eached via email@example.com.
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.
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