Adjusted taxes to boost fuel prices even higher

Monday, June 23, 2008

If the reality of $4-plus gasoline hasn't sunk in yet, just wait a few days.

That's when we'll begin paying an additional 3 cents per gallon -- actually a half-cent lower than had been expected -- in state fuel taxes. That means, until the end of the year, we'll pay 26 cents per gallon in Nebraska to keep our roads in good repair.

We actually don't object to fuel tax, as it seems like a fair way to fund the state Department of Roads. The more miles you drive, and the more wear-and-tear you put on the road, the more gasoline you buy and the more taxes you pay.

But drivers as a group won't pay less in taxes if they cut down their driving. That's because the Legislature budgets a set amount for the department, and the state fuel tax is adjusted twice a year to raise that amount.

And don't expect the tax bite to improve any next year. That's when a new, 5 percent tax on the wholesale price of fuel will go into effect -- a tax that surely will be passed on to the consumer.

And don't take out your frustrations on the clerk at the gas station. Many stations that typically mark up gasoline by 11 to 12 cents a gallon are seeing even that slim margin disappear as credit card companies collect fees of nearly 10 cents a gallon.

That's led to the inconvenient or even alarming trend of some stations refusing credit cards altogether. And, you may find a self-service pump rejecting your debit card, or cutting it off before your tank is full if you don't have enough in deposits to cover a $75 or $100 "hold" placed on the card by the bank to cover the potential cost of refueling.

Most stations will take a local check, but for long trips, we may find ourselves carrying large amounts of cash, or even purchasing travelers' checks -- remember those?

No one will argue over the need for funding for road repairs after our unusually snowy winter and downpours this spring.

The city has been kept busy patching potholes in addition to scheduled street repair work, and the Nebraska Department of Roads had to place a temporary 10-ton weight limited on four miles of State Highway 47 south of Cambridge effective today.

Officials blamed above-average moisture as well as increased truck traffic.

Appropriately enough, in this discussion of fuel prices, the truck traffic probably involves loads of corn headed to the new ethanol plant at Cambridge.

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