Raising Gas Taxes

Jun 7, 2011

Yesterday, as the congressman from New York was going through his excruciating televised confession, someone called to ask me, “why don’t we have any good sex scandals in Michigan?”

The answer, of course, is that we are too poor these days. All we can think about is money.  We did have a governor who left his wife and married a member of his staff twenty years ago, but that was about it. Actually, it could be that the perfect example of how to handle these things was set by the late Henry Ford the second, who was stopped for drunk driving in the wee hours one morning, accompanied by a woman who was not his wife. Hank the Deuce was not one for wrenching, soul-baring confessions.

“Never complain, never explain,” said he. Eventually he married the other woman, and lived happily ever after.

Frankly, since sooner or later virtually everybody does something they don’t want widely known, I think Ford’s maxim is one everybody should adopt and the media should respect, with the exception of any sitting President accused of a dalliance with a North Korean spy.

But back to money. Almost overlooked in all the furor was yesterday’s really titillating story. Dan Akerson, the CEO of General Motors, suggested the Federal Government raise the gas tax by as much as a dollar a gallon. That would be enough to make Hank the Deuce spin in his grave, if he hadn’t been cremated.

Just imagine: The head of what is still the nation’s biggest auto company calling for an increase in gas taxes. That would once have been unimaginable. The last person to propose something like this was Ross Perot when he ran for president two decades ago.

Auto executives then said that showed how out of touch with reality Perot was. Now, Akerson says this would be good for the environment, because it would get people to buy smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. Not to mention making America less dependent on imported oil. There are other things to be said for this idea, too. Ross Perot touted his gas tax increase as a way of bringing down the federal deficit, which is bigger today than he ever imagined.

But there’s something else that could be done as well. Fix the roads and bridges. I spent last week in England and Scotland, where gas costs more than eight dollars a gallon. That would give people heart failure here. But I didn’t see a single pothole or crumbling bridge. I didn’t see a single car belching smoke or missing fenders, either; they have strict laws about that sort of thing.

The British support something else with their tax dollars: A wonderful, efficient and affordable public transportation system. I took a four hundred mile train trip one day and was able to read, nap and access the internet.

Dan Akerson may be able to see that the world is changing better than most auto executives because he spent most of his career in another industry, in this case, telecommunications.

He knows the old ways won’t work anymore, and that the choice is to adapt or die. Two years ago, America saved General Motors. Wouldn’t it be nice if the proposal GM’s new leader is making was a step towards returning the favor?