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Monday, July 28, 2008

Gas prices and Kentucky politics

With his first political ad of this election year, Senator Mitch McConnell has thrown a softball to his Democratic opponent -- Bruce Lunsford.
McConnell's ad, which is airing statewide and first ran in Lexington during the early morning news shows Friday, criticizes Lunsford for pushing for a provision 28 years ago that automatically raises Kentucky's gas tax each year if the wholesale price of gasoline shoots up.

”Bruce Lunsford: automatic tax increases, more expensive gas,“ the ad's announcer says to conclude the 30-second spot.
Lunsford worked for Governor John Y. Brown back in those days, so the attack is a bit of a stretch. Moreover, the automatic tax provision was first triggered in 2004. Since that date, the law has cost Kentuckians about a nickel a gallon.

Given that gas has been priced at or above $4 per gallon for some months, it seems unlikely that McConnell can blame his opponent for current high gas prices.

If he wants to, Lunsford can point out that the law was designed to assure road funds during periods of escalating prices. People drive less when prices surge. The road fund has collected an extra $340 million in taxes since 2004 thanks to the extra nickel. Lunsford can campaign on pork -- something McConnell the incumbent wants to do.

More importantly, McConnell's ad set the stage for the obvious response:
”McConnell raised $3 million from big oil while voting to give them billions in tax breaks,“ the female announcer says in Lunsford's 30-second spot that began airing Friday.
Last week, Lunsford also announced an 8 point plan to expand energy supply and reduce gas prices:
The plan Lunsford unveiled yesterday includes withdrawing 50 million barrels of oil from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve; stopping speculators who drive up the cost of oil; requiring oil companies to drill on land they currently lease; promoting clean coal and renewable energy technologies; and prosecuting price gougers.
Lunsford is running to the right of Barack Obama and other Democrats nationwide, so he spoke in favor of drilling in ANWR (only after other sources have been exploited) and off-shore.

Still, it is difficult to believe that this is a strong line of attack for McConnell.

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