Reader response to my "Millions For Defense" column has already begun to arrive.
A few letters are from young people. All express opposition to registration, the draft, war in general, and similar projects that the young think give pleasure to older people.
However, most of the mail so far is from adults who agree with me that we can't solve our defense problems by throwing money at them. People must also become involved.
As I was reading these letters Wednesday evening, I received a phone call from a woman whose voice had a touch of the South and maybe a nip of whiskey in its recent past.
"How come you weren't in the paper this morning?" she asked.
"I was sick," I said.
"Real sick, or just the sniffles?"
"How do you feel now?"
"I'm sorry. do you want me to hang up?"
"No, no. 'Rotten' is as good as I ever feel. What did you want to talk about?"
"I just wanted to tell you how tired I am of reading about kids who chant, 'Hell, no, we won't go.' They dare to call the president a facist dictator who is trying to get this country into war and they're so damn dumb they don't realize that if he was really a fascist or a dictator he'd throw them in jail for such talk. They don't realize that the only reason they can exercise their right of free speech and show the world precisly how immature they are is that for 200 years young men made of better stuff did answer the call of duty. A lot of good men died to keep this country free, and it's a pity to see that freedom wasted on a generation that just wants to take from their elders without doing their part when it's their turn. I won't bend your ear any more. Goodbye."
I hung up the phone and found myself musing, "By golly, I'd hate to be an enemy solider trying to invade her turf." NUMBERS GAME
The City Council appears determined to raise Washington's sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent, and to apply the sales tax to gasoline for the first time.
Local motorists now pay 4 cents per gallon in federal taxes and 10 cents per gallon in D.C. taxes. In othe words, when gas costs an average of $1.28 a gallon, $1.14 is for the gas and 14 cents is for tax.
The new law would add 6 percent to the $1.28. Nominally, that works out to about 7.7 cents, but sales tax schedules are not designed to give the consumer the best of the breakage. The practical effect of a 6 percent tax on $1.28 gas would be about 8 cents a gallon. And as gas goes up in price, the sales tax on it will also go up. The new tax is not 6 cents a gallon, but 6 percent.
However, gas will remain available at $1.28 a gallon in Maryland, and tens of thousands of Washington auto owners live within two or three miles of the Maryland line. Vic Rasheed, executive director of the Greater Washington-Maryland Service Station Association, estimates that gasoline sales in Washington will drop by 40 percent if the local price goes to $1.36 while Maryland's remains at $1.28.
If he's right, the higher tax will yield zilch. Look at the numbers:
In March, the latest month for which I have figures, the District collected $1.6 million on the sale of 16 million gallons of gas. If higher taxes cause sales to drop by 40 percent to 9.6 million gallons and we collect 18 cents a gallon in tax instead of 10 cents, we'll take in $1.7 million instead of $1.6 million. But Rasheed says the drop in volume will cause most stations to lay off employees and force many smaller stations to go out of business. The result, he says, will be that 500 to 750 stations attendants will be laid off and will begin to draw unemployment benefits. So the question will be: It we take in an extra $100,000 a month but must pay unemployment benefits to 500 or 750 attendants, what have we gained? Five hundred times 200 equals 100,000 -- and who can support a family on $200 a month? -- and 750 times a 300 equals 225,000. So raising taxes can actually cause us to lose money; meanwhile, a filling station attendant who draws $300 a month in benefits and pays $170 for a one-bedroom apartment in th slums would have $130 a month left to feed himself and his wife. God help him if he must also support a child.
One other aspect of the new law is worth thinking about: When the gas pump stops at $17.82, how many filling station attendants will be able to figure out 106 percent of $17.82 without long delays and many errors?If told you that the sales tax on $17.82 is $1.19, bringing your bill to $19.21, would you be sure whether you were supposed to pay me or holler for a cop?
I think I'm getting a subliminal message that there may be a better way to raise revenue for the D of C.