Friday, May 16, 2008

A Modest Proposal - Increase Gas Taxes Now

In my dozen years in Pasadena I must have driven past the undistinguished intersection of Green and Chester Street a thousand times. But a couple weeks ago I walked past it for the first time. I took a bunch of pictures. Here's a Google map view.

Green and Chester Street Sign - Pasadena CA - (c)David Ocker
On the northeast corner of Green and Chester is an old unused gas station. I can't call it "abandoned" because it's kept up. Here's a picture which I took today. (Click any pic for an enlargement.) The place is swept. The garage doors painted. Electric lights were burning during the day.

What, I wonder, is the story with this place?

Old gas station panorama shot Pasadena CA - (c)David Ocker
It seems even stranger if you compare todays pic with what's visible in Google Street View. Go back to the above map link, click on Street View and then click the arrows until your little avatar is facing northeast. There's no green paint and no old fashioned gas pumps. The Google street view can't be that old. Things have been changing at this station.

Here's the funky old clock with numbers askew which is located above and to the right of the garage doors. The garage-door building housed a vintage clothing store about a year ago.

Old gas station clock Pasadena CA (c)David Ocker
Next picture is a closeup of the three gas pumps in front of the little hut with a big air-conditioning unit on top of it. The remaining pictures in this post are all shots of the individual pumps - getting closer and closer and finally ending with the price per gallon of gasoline on the Fire Chief pump very easy to read.

My best guess is that this lot was used for a movie shoot and that the pumps will disappear as mysteriously as they appeared. Got a better guess? This blog encourages comments.

Three old gas pumps - Pasadena CA (c) David Ocker
Meanwhile, lets talk about politics. Hillary Clinton, who is not the next president of the United States, has been trying to buy our votes by suggesting the gas companies should pay our gasoline taxes for a few months. Money in our pockets. Silly plan, Hil.

How much is the gasoline tax? Currently we in Los Angeles pay 18.4 cents Federal tax plus 18 cents state tax plus 8 3/4% sales tax and maybe some other little tax bits per U.S. gallon. That's about 71 cents on a $4 gallon - around 17% tax. Not a heavy tax. (Check your state's gas tax here.)

Texaco gasoline pump logo Pasadena CA (c)David OckerDid you know California is in deep shit state budget-wise - not enough money is coming in to meet expenses. You probably have a similar problem on a day to day, paycheck to paycheck level.

California's governor, an actor trained to ignore reality, has brainstormed his way out of the problem. (His real problem is actually how to leave office without causing a societal collapse rather than balancing the budget.)

Texaco gas pump Pasadena CA (c) David Ocker
Governor Borrow and Spend wants us Californians to vote. He's giving us two options. He wants us to choose how to get out of the crisis so he and the other officials we elected won't have to do their job by coming to an agreement. Gov says "either/or."
  • Either we can vote for the state to borrow more money (this time from our own Lottery because banks won't loan money to California again. Note that the Gov got us out of the last crisis a year or two ago.) ... OR ...
  • We can vote to raise the sales tax on ourselves. (Sales taxes are a breeze for rich people to pay - they hurt poor people the most. Remember that there are more poor people than rich people and everyone thinks they will win the next lottery.)

Texaco Sky Chief logo Pasadena CA (c) David Ocker
But I am here today, my fellow Americans (or my fellow Californians), to suggest an alternative.

We should increase the gasoline tax immediately.

But here's the twist - pass the law now but don't start the new tax until the price of gasoline starts to fall.

The price of gasoline will fall eventually - partially because of supply and demand (when EVERYONE owns a Prius no one will want much gasoline) but mostly because George II will stop being our President in just eight months - and everyone, all over the world, is going to want to take a nice relaxing bath and have a cup of high-anti-oxidant green tea once George is back in Crawford. I hope.

Texaco Sky Chief and Fire-Chief pumps Pasadena CA (c)David Ocker
Here's how the Ocker Tax would work. For every two cent drop in the price of gas the tax would go up one cent. It works through the magic of statistics and mathematics. Don't worry - someone somewhere understands numbers. You and I don't have to. Our only job will be to pay at the pump. These days there's actually a television cop show you can watch starring people who understand Numb3rs. so you don't have to worry your innumerate head about it.

As the price of gasoline drops and the tax goes up, the price we pay at the pump will still drop. Just not as much as it might have. We will still all personally benefit from lower prices while the government gets increased revenue. This could be spent on hiring an extra police officer. But most likely the money will just pay off the debt.

What's the trick? There are no benefits until the prices drop.

But when they do there will be new tax revenue and it will come at the same time as falling prices. If the total price of all gasoline sold drops by a gazillion dollars the government gets half a gazillion and we consumers split the other half gazillion.

Texaco Fire-Chief logo Pasadena CA (c) David Ocker
The real trick is getting the legislature to think ahead into the future and pass a law contrary to common stupidity. (There is no such thing as common wisdom.)

People tend to think that the prices which have been rising steadily for a while will always rise higher and higher. Just like ever-increasing real estate prices which have kept our banks and brokerage houses rolling in profit. (um, that's a joke.)

Remember, things go in cycles.

Another cycle predicts that eventually the Knee-Jerk Republicans will get elected again.
The Republicans are Knee-Jerkers because they answer every question with the same involuntary jerk - "we'll cut taxes". They can only get elected by offering to cut our taxes. And most of us will vote for a tax cut.

Maybe we can talk the Republicans into only cutting the gasoline tax by a quarter-gazillion dollars. Public revenue still comes out ahead by the final quarter of a gazillion dollars. That's a lot of money. Well, in truth, a quarter gazillion doesn't go as far as it used to.

The price of gas long ago Pasadena CA (c) David Ocker
In my fantasy this plan would work. It's perfect. It can't fail.

It does depend on people accepting the counter-intuitive notion that "things are cyclical". Like the universe which goes around and around in circles, big rocks circling thermo-nuclear explosions.

I don't know why people figure tomorrow will be exactly like today only more so. But they do. Is it a tenet of Christianity or something?

The beauty of the Ocker Tax is that if I'm wrong about the cyclical thing and the price of gasoline does continue to go up in perpetuity then my modest tax proposal will only COST NOTHING. People do vote for things which cost nothing. Although we'll have to suffer through naysaying hot air typhoons from politicians who can only think as far into the future as the next election.

On second thought, forget I said anything. This is a lame-brain idea and it's not going to happen.
Sorry to have wasted your time.

The price of gas long ago Pasadena CA (c) David Ocker
My apologies to those people who never fail to mention how much they hate it when I write about politics.

Ocker Taxes: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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