Motorists to rally in Washington over fuel prices
by TOM DOCHAT, Of The Patriot-News
Friday April 25, 2008, 12:01 AM
CHRISTINE BAKER, The Patriot NewsAbout 200 truckers head to the Capitol on Interstate 81 March 31 for a fuel price protest on the Capitol steps in Harrisburg.As fuel prices continued hitting record highs this week, frustrations among motorists escalated. That has motivated thousands of people from across the country to rally Monday in Washington, D.C., to protest oil prices that are ravaging the national economy and running some independent truckers out of business.
"We're going to let them know that, somewhere along the line, they forgot they work for us," said Myerstown trucker Mark Kirsch, referring to the protesters' intention to demand a meeting with congressional leaders.
The truckers want to meet with Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who has proposed a federal gas tax moratorium for this summer.
They also hope to meet with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has indicated she might support a temporary moratorium if a windfall profits tax on oil companies puts money back into the highway trust funds.
Sen. Barack Obama, who is competing with Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, has opposed McCain's idea. Obama said it's a bad policy because that tax money is needed to maintain the nation's roads and bridges.
Other observers have said McCain's proposal would not do much to help people while taking away valuable support for highway maintenance.
"It is less a quick fix than an oversimplified play to voter concerns over the rising cost of oil," said a statement released last week by Americans for Transportation Mobility, which represents more than 400 transportation users and providers. "Suspending the fuel surcharge might make a good sound bite, but it is bad public policy."
Clayton Boyce, a spokesman for the American Trucking Association, said his organization is not opposed to the idea, "but we really need to wait and see."
If the federal taxes were suspended, the Highway Trust Fund would need some other revenue source, he said. The trust fund is expected to go broke in 2009, he said.
Without continued funding, the nation faces more highway congestion, and "we'll be wasting more fuel," Boyce said.
Gasoline prices continued to increase this week, and diesel fuel hit a record high of $4.433 Thursday in AAA's Harrisburg/Lebanon/Carlisle market. Suspending the federal tax would cut that per-gallon price to $4.189.
"Like I've said before, it would be a good start," Kirsch said Wednesday. "But they have to do something else. They have to get those speculators off Wall Street. There's a lot of things that can be done."
Kirsch was in Washington on Wednesday finalizing the permits needed for the protest. He said there's a 90 percent certainty the truckers will get to meet with McCain on Monday.
"We're open to anything at this point," Kirsch said. "I don't have the answers, but I know something has to be done. I'm working real hard to find them."
McCain has called for dropping the federal tax only -- 18.4 cents for gasoline and 24.4 cents a gallon for diesel.
In Pennsylvania, state taxes are 31.2 cents a gallon for gasoline and 38.1 cents for diesel. State officials have said they do not support cutting those taxes.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, which opposes McCain's proposal, said a motorist driving 12,000 miles a year would save about $28 through the tax suspension. Meanwhile, $8.5 billion in fuel tax revenue would be lost, resulting in the potential loss of 300,000 jobs, the association said.
Brett Lieberman of our Washington bureau and staff writer Frank Cozzoli contributed to this story.