Is Florida’s Temporary Gas Tax Cut a Bribe To Voters?

Maybe I'm too paranoid. When I first heard about the state of Florida's temporary eight cent cut in gas taxes, this is what I imagined:

Suppose you are the Governor of Florida, and you are worried that the voters are restive. Gas prices are up, and people tend to blame the government for that, and then maybe take it out on your brother at the election. Which would not just cost you in the family, but vastly reduce your chances of being the nominee in four years.

Fortunately, your party has a big majority in the legislature (not, however, in the popular vote for the legislature, but that's ok, as you know how to draw legislative districts). So you enact an eight cent drop in the gas taxes — effective only in August.

It's a nice conspiracy theory. But having checked around, I think it's not true.

My first stop was the state of Florida's own PR web site:

The legislation requires motor-fuel terminal suppliers, wholesalers, importers, and retail gas stations to pass on the tax reduction to their customers. The tax cut does not apply to diesel fuel.

This gasoline tax cut is expected to save taxpayers $59.7 million.

The Department of Revenue developed an Emergency Rule to implement the law. TIPs will be mailed in July to all businesses and parties affected by the legislation. See the links below for more information.

Failure to comply with the Florida Motor Fuel Tax Relief Act of 2004 is a third-degree felony and violators could also lose their state licenses to sell motor fuel.

Hmm. Those are unusually draconian penalties. Since when do states punish merchants for not passing on savings to consumers? That seems to support my hypothesis.

But then I started thinking. If this was really designed to affect the election, why end the tax break ends Sept. 1 not, say, Nov. 1? Yes, August is prime holiday driving season, but why not be fully shameless?

Could it be this isn't about the election at all? And indeed, a little more Googling suggests that maybe I jumped too quickly to conclusions. The bill wasn't proposed by a Republican, but by a Democrat:

state Rep. Bob Henriquez, D-Tampa … proposed the tax break as a way to help small business and spur tourism.

“In all honesty we just needed some relief at the pump,” Henriquez said Thursday from Boston, where he was attending the Democratic National Convention.

Turns out it's bad policy though: according to Sarasota's, the $98 million [note that the state says it's just $59.7 million, I don't know why the two numbers are so different] comes out of the state's transportation fund, which means less money for mass transit…increasing demand for gas in the long run.

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