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Our View: Gas tax pegged to an index could be way out of state's latest impasse

Before the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty opposed a gas tax increase. When the tragedy struck, he changed his mind, calling the situation "extraordinary." This week, he qualified his position to say he wouldn't accept...

Before the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty opposed a gas tax increase. When the tragedy struck, he changed his mind, calling the situation "extraordinary." This week, he qualified his position to say he wouldn't accept more than a 5-cent hike and that it would have to be tied to tax cuts elsewhere in the budget.

While critics may accuse him of flip-flopping, the governor's up-and-down stance is consistent with an idea offered on several occasions by the News Tribune editorial board: a gas tax that would only kick in when pump prices fall.

It would work by setting an index -- we suggested $3 per gallon the last time we floated the plan (Our View: "Fed up with gas prices? Here's an 'intriguingidea,' " May 27). When pump prices rise above the $3 mark, there would be no new taxes. When they fall below $3, a penny of every two-cent drop would go to the state.

Consumers wouldn't notice the tax because it would only take effect when prices drop, which, barring another Hurricane Katrina, tends to happen in the fall.

Would it work? Though gas prices fluctuate, they do rise over time, and the index probably would have to be reset annually.

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But had the state adopted the plan in May when the average price was $3 per gallon, it would have taken in an extra 2.5 cents for each gallon of gas sold in June, when the price fell to $2.949. There would have been no increase in July when it rose to $3.032, but would have netted a whopping7 cents per gallon in August, when the average price through last week was $2.858, according to American Automobile Association figures.

And, we repeat, drivers would not have noticed it.

So has Pawlenty?

"They haven't talked about it that way, but they have talked about indexing," Brian McClung, Pawlenty's spokesman, told the editorial page staff, adding that his boss, legislators and other officials were meeting on the subject yesterday.

"We'll watch for youreditorial."

And we'll watch for falling pump prices.

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