Highway Robbery

Just don't say the Israeli government is insensitive to the country's workers. Why, this week it decided to give them a nice gift for May Day - it raised gasoline prices to a record NIS 7.62 per liter.

Just don't say the Israeli government is insensitive to the country's workers. Why, this week it decided to give them a nice gift for May Day - it raised gasoline prices to a record NIS 7.62 per liter.

This is a way to improve the workers' health. They will be forced to sell their gas-guzzling cars for cash, and because we have no decent public transportation, they will have to get to work on foot or by bicycle - and sports are good for your health. They will also be able to enjoy calm weekends at home, without unnecessary trips. This will make their lives quieter, safer and more enjoyable thanks to the kind and beneficent government that has raised gas prices sky high.

So it's not clear why on Sunday dozens of drivers joined a long protest convoy that made its way from Tel Aviv to Haifa's oil refineries, carrying signs denouncing "the insane gas tax." What's the matter, don't they understand they have the privilege of being the cash cows of Benjamin Netanyahu and his finance minister, Yuval Steinitz?

Why can't they understand that the issue is foreign to Steinitz, Netanyahu and senior treasury officials? After all, they don't know how much a liter of gas costs. They have cars at their disposal 24 hours a day and the state pays for the gas. Why should they care that Mrs. Cohen from Hadera is shrinking under the burden and selling her little car?

It's also quite annoying to hear the Finance Ministry's lame excuses for the latest price hike of May 1 - 23 agorot. Libya is to blame; it's that awful Gadhafi who is causing the unrest that is jacking up oil prices. It's also Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau's fault. He didn't lower the gasoline retailers' profit margins. And who isn't to blame at all? Steinitz and the ministry's budget director, Udi Nissan. They have nothing at all to do with it.

Let's bring up some forgotten facts. In July 2008 the price of a barrel of oil reached a record $148. As a result, the price of a liter of gasoline reached a record NIS 6.96. The current price of a barrel of oil is $112. But the price of a liter of gas is NIS 7.62. How did this reversal come about?

The explanation stems from Steinitz and Nissan's economic policy. Instead of presenting a responsible, restrained budget to the Knesset, the two submitted in 2009 a broad, two-year budget with unnecessary spending increases. The largest government in the state's history was set up, and the atmosphere was one of abundance.

It's okay to be the good guys and increase spending, but in the end it's time to pay the bill; that is, to raise taxes. So the two were forced to raise several taxes of every kind, including the excise tax on gasoline, which was inflated with the help of VAT. Consequently, the gas tax soared to 52 percent of the price, while in July 2008 it was only 47 percent. This is the main reason for the high gas prices - crazy taxation intended to finance a wasteful budget.

So now, every time you pump a liter of gas into your car, you're paying NIS 3.65 per liter (including marketing expenses ), but you also pay the treasury NIS 3.97. This is highway robbery. It's more expensive than in most European countries, though their standard of living is higher and public transportation is far superior.

It's irritating to hear the Finance Ministry's explanations - that driving a car has "negative external effects," so it should be taxed highly because this reduces the number of times we use our cars, thus contributing to cleaner air. The truth is, the treasury is largely concerned with filling its empty coffers.

The argument of "negative external effects" is even more exasperating in view of the situation in that undeveloped country called the United States. There the government levies a mere 14 percent tax on gasoline (compared with 52 percent in Israel ). There a liter of gas costs NIS 3.5 - less than half the price in Israel.

Don't they care about clean air over there? They do, and how. But they also care about the people and make sure they can live and enjoy themselves. They wouldn't dare charge 52 percent tax in the United States, because it's simply plunder. But what do they know? They don't have a kind, beneficent finance minister who takes care of the masses on May Day.