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State leaders smelling too many gas fumes
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They're grasping at straws in Sacramento.

On one side you have primarily Democrats who cite the improving economy as a reason to justify tax increases.

On the other side you have primarily Republicans who claim the improving economy is the reason you shouldn't raise taxes.

What improving economy, you ask? Both sides are referring to the "unexpected windfall" of $6.6 billion over what originally had been projected.

It isn't, of course, enough to wipe out the state's $15.5 billion remaining deficit. Even so Gov. Jerry Brown wants to put $3 billion of the "windfall" toward education.

With a little luck that $3 billion investment in education might produce an economist or two who deals in reality and not theory that could help the state be more realistic.

The average retail price of gasoline in California has increased $1.20 over the past 12 months.

It might surprise legislators - who definitely aren't detail guys when it comes to finances - that each gallon of gasoline sold in California has an 8.25 percent state sales tax on top of 18 cents in straight tax per gallon collected by the state and 18.4 cents per gallon collected by the federal government.

While the straight per gallon tax doesn't rise when prices do, the sales tax does.

Let's say you're a typical commuter who puts 100 or miles so on your vehicle each day. By the time all of your driving is factored in for the week, you're probably pumping 30 gallons a week.

That means that commuter is paying $2.96 more in state sales taxes each week than they were a year ago. That's about $150 more in sales tax on an annual basis from just one commuter. One hundred commuters in the same boat puts the state's increased take up to $15,000. Ten thousand similar commuters and you're talking $1,500,000. A million commuters at the same rate and you're at $150 million. Take into account sales tax on the driving habits of people who commute less plus tax on fuel consumed by trucks, jets, and trains and you can easily be way past the $1 billion mark.

Gee, anybody want to take a wild guess where a large chunk of that windfall probably came from?

If gas prices recede, part of the windfall goes away. And if they don't recede, that means $1 billion or so has already been taken out of the economy that could have gone for goods. So if you increased the taxes on goods on the assumption the economy is improving you're going to be increasing taxes on people who are paying more in taxes by simply trying to get work so they can earn the money to feed their family and - you guessed it - pay taxes.

A tad simplistic, perhaps, but compared to the simpletons who act like it is OK to pull the trigger on more taxes or who believe the economy is starting to show signs of roaring so there is no need to raise taxes, it isn't.

The truth is we need to cut back the size of state government. The Republicans can't avoid the dirty work by a supposedly rebounding economy nor can the Democrats tax their way to protect every state job in California unless, of course, they want to send the economy into a deeper tailspin.

It's too bad the independent commission overseeing compensation for the legislature don't pull the plug on free state cars and unlimited gas sooner for lawmakers. That decision won't go into effect until June 1, 2011 which explains why lawmakers have no real personal connection with the pain at the pump.

But given how they are swooning over the "windfall" maybe lawmakers have been around the gas pumps, given it appears they've smelled too many gasoline fumes.