(Jan. 6) Driving home from work every day, I pass the same gas station. Going into the holiday season, I saw the prices at that gas station jump by as much as 10 cents in less than a month. Sometimes it seemed like they just shot up overnight.

I’ve really had to work hard at not flinching when I pass that gas station. I’ve trained myself to try and ignore the sign out front. I’m afraid one day I might look at it, recoil in horror, and lose control of my car, sending it spinning off the road. I’ve already wrecked one car in the past year. I don’t need to make it two.

COMING DOWN THE PIKE

But then again, if I didn’t have a car, at least I wouldn’t have to worry about paying high gas prices. But we’re all going to have to worry about that soon if two Republican congressmen get their way.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., chairman of the Highways and Transit subcommittee, have proposed an increase in fuel taxes over the next six years.

According to this wonderful plan, fuel prices would be increased by 2 cents each year. What’s more, the increases would be tied into the Consumer Price Index. That way, if inflation goes up, so do our fuel prices accordingly.

Happy New Year from your friendly federal government, ladies and gentlemen.

But it’s not like the money will be going to fund new homes for the congressmen or anything. Rather, it will be used for highway repairs, maintenance and improvements. To be sure, this is a worthy cause. Anyone who’s ever driven along I-70 in Missouri will tell you that.

BAD TIMING

A congressional hearing in early 2002 determined that the improvements were indeed necessary but could not be paid for with the money now in the Highway Trust Fund.

I guess I’m not so bothered by the purpose of this proposal as I am by the timing of it. We’re on shaky enough ground economically as it is. People are getting laid off left and right. Fuel prices already are on the increase. And on top of all this, they want to slap us with higher fuel taxes.

And believe me, “slap” is an appropriate word here because that’s just what this is — a slap in the face of a country of people who already are stretching every dollar they can.

The trucking industry, naturally, opposes the new tax. And well it should. After a year of bankruptcies and dwindling numbers of available trucks — not to mention capable, qualified drivers — the industry is lurching forward on wobbly wheels. And now the government wants to add to that burden.

And let’s not forget the added factor of global politics. The potential of war with Iraq, combined with striking oil workers in Venezuela, has already sent oil prices to their highest levels in two years.

So this presents quite a conundrum for our friends in Congress. On the one hand, highway repairs and improvements are needed. I’ve seen potholes big enough to swallow a Buick. But on the other hand, I don’t want to go back to the days of paying $25 to fill up my car.

For those who think that price sounds a little low, I should point out that I drive a Hyundai, and on the average week I pay less than $20 to fill it up.

WHEELS OF GOVERNMENT

So what to do with this situation? Truth is, I don’t have the answer. If I did, I’d probably be running for office myself instead of sitting here whining about high gas prices.

At the very least, it seems to me that Young and Petri could wait a little while before attaching another leech to the already anemic blood vessels of the American people. At least wait until the economy breaks out of its slump and a few more people have managed to find jobs.

But the beauty of our government is that nothing ever gets done overnight. I’d be willing to wager that by the time this gets through all of the various committees and subcommittees and sub-subcommittees and the committee to monitor the activities of subcommittees that not only will it have whiskers on it, but we’ll have developed an alternative fuel source that will render any taxes on gasoline obsolete.

Now there’s a thought for a Happy New Year.