More gas-tax hypocrisy

Last week, I bashed John McCain’s plan for a moratorium on the federal gas tax, which would cut gas prices by about 18 cents. Now Hillary Clinton appears to have drunk the gas-tax Kool-Aid: She’s joined McCain in calling for a summer-long tax holiday. “At the heart of my approach is a simple belief,” she said yesterday. “Middle-class families are paying too much and oil companies aren’t paying their fair share to help us solve the problems at the pump.”

That means that of the presidential hopefuls, only Barack Obama wants the gas tax to remain in place. He’s learned the hard way that gas-tax cuts don’t work: In 2000, with gas prices weighing in at a whopping $2 a gallon, he supported the Illinois Senate’s move to slash the state’s 6.25 percent gas tax.

The state’s moratorium was politically popular, but achieved almost nothing. Gas prices fell by just 3 percent, meaning that a hefty chunk of the tax relief went straight to oil companies. Less than a third of Illinois motorists said the tax cut had made them better off. And over six months, the state lost $175 million in revenues, prompting then-Gov. George Ryan to beg lawmakers to reinstate the tax. (In the end, Obama was among those who voted to restore the tax.)

Clinton may not have Obama’s experience, but she can hardly claim ignorance of the problems gas taxes entail. Back in 2000, she made her opposition to gas-tax cuts a centerpiece of her Senate campaign, saying her rival’s plan for a 4.3-cent cut would be “a bad deal for New York and a potential bonanza for the oil companies,” and added that “the gas tax is one of the few exceptions where we actually get more money back than we send to Washington.”

Even John McCain knows that nixing the gas tax won’t achieve much: He’s cooled on his claims that the moratorium would provide “an immediate economic stimulus," and now says it’s more about giving consumers “a little psychological boost.” He added: “Let’s have some straight talk: It’s not a huge amount of money.”

He can say that again. With some energy analysts predicting that gas prices could soon reach $10 a gallon, it’s madness to think that scrapping an 18-cent federal tax is going to make a difference to consumers. To get out of this hole - and help fix the climate crisis - we badly need straight talk on energy pricing. So far, sadly, only Obama has come close to providing it.