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MONDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Donít penalize fuel-efficient drivers to pay for highways

One proposal to replenish the Federal Highway Trust Fund would take money away from owners of fuel-efficient vehicles — the same vehicles the government ought to be encouraging.

The government now tries to promote fuel economy by setting miles-per-gallon standards and offering income-tax breaks. But the new proposal would charge a fee to owners of hybrids and other alternative-fuel vehicles, on the theory that they're avoiding some of the gasoline tax that funds road construction and maintenance.

Any direct charge that discourages fuel economy would be a bad move. The nation needs to be less dependent on petroleum and its foreign suppliers. We also need cleaner sources of energy.

The new proposal is in a report commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that says the Highway Trust Fund will be billions of dollars short in the next few years unless new revenue is found.

The first thing Congress can do is cut out wasteful spending, such as $223 million for what critics call the "bridge to nowhere" at Ketchikan, Alaska.

If enough vehicles burn less gas, this will hurt revenue from the current federal gas tax, a flat 18.4 cents per gallon. If new revenue is necessary, indexing that tax to inflation might be a solution, along with other charges based on miles driven and on which vehicles cause the most wear and tear on the roads.

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