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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 2, 2010

Barrel tax needs to be dumped

The barrel tax making its way through the Legislature is a fraud, dressed up in language like energy independence and food security when it's actually just another way to add millions to the general fund.

Last year, the Legislature passed a similar tax that would have added $1.05 to the cost of every barrel of oil imported into Hawai'i. Gov. Linda Lingle was right to veto it.

But the barrel tax is back, this year known as the Environmental Response, Energy and Food Security Tax. House Bill 2421 now calls for a $1.55 tax, one of several interesting revisions since the 2009 model was axed.

The proposed tax would add 2 to 4 cents to a gallon of gas. Pressured by the airlines, especially Hawaiian Airlines, legislators rewrote the bill this year so it exempts the aviation fuel used by commercial carriers. So much for sharing the pain.

The bill contains pages and pages of puffery extolling the importance of family farms and renewable energy and agricultural security and cheap fruits and vegetables and clean water and air. But just when you think the new tax will pay for all of that good stuff, you find out that it would also authorize the transfer of an estimated $22 million into the general fund to help balance the budget.

Democratic legislators' sympathy to the plight of the airlines obviously doesn't extend to consumers. Why anyone at the Capitol would believe now is the right time to gouge the average person when they fill up is simply baffling.

Let's be clear. Once the economy improves, we could support a modest barrel tax that would be used exclusively for the underwriting of renewable energy initiatives. But HB 2421 is a scam and the Democratic leadership should scuttle it before Lingle has to embarrass them with another veto.