Tuesday, September 19, 2000 Missoulian Editorial Truckers who drive across Montana and who live in the state know the value of good roads. Pavement is as important to their life and livelihoods as good brakes and a load to haul.
So it was no surprise that truckers still support the state's 27.75 cents-a-gallon tax on diesel fuel, even at a time when fuel costs are so high that many truckers are getting out of the business, selling or parking their own rigs. Montana's fuel costs are not the most expensive, but we're in the top third, which is not necessarily a good place to be.
Still, the fuel tax helps keep roads maintained, plowed and safe. In a state with thousands of miles of road, dangerous weather conditions, mountains and very few people, taxes are necessary to maintain quality and quantity of driveable miles.
Truckers could ask next year's Legislature to roll back the diesel taxes, but so far aren't planning to do so. It is telling that industry groups are deeply concerned about the price of fuel, but also are careful to weigh the value of the tax to the men and women who make their living on the road.
By world standards, the United States has incredibly cheap fuel. Drivers need just a glance toward England, where automobile owners are paying the equivalent of $16 a gallon, to realize our plight has not reached catastrophic levels yet.
Prices have already stabilized some from a few months ago. Market prices are bringing some fuel costs down, and state and federal investigators are keeping more careful eyes on fuel providers.
In other words, the private marketplace is still at work, still balancing and shaking out an old-economy commodity. Panic is not appropriate yet, as the truckers seem to know.