Big oil is always blamed for high fuel prices. But the real villain might be…big government. A provocative piece in the American Spectator:

“Now, this isn’t a defense of (or an apology for) the way oil companies conduct business. Good, bad – or ugly – it’s entirely beside the point. What is worth discussing is how come it’s okay for government to gouge us so ruinously, on a commodity so essential to our day-to-day lives.

“These taxes are necessary — or so the argument runs — in order to finance new road construction and to pay for the upkeep of existing roads. The Highway Revenue Act of 1956 created the Highway Trust Fund, into which motor fuels excise taxes are paid; the money collected is then distributed by the Feds to each state to pay for various road/highway projects, etc. (The taxes themselves are actually collected from the large corporations/distributors, etc. selling fuel; the money you pay at the pump “reimburses” them for what they paid the government.)

“But this process necessarily involves “administrative costs” — the various bureaucracies (and bureaucrats) who pull the levers, stamp the forms and shuffle the paperwork. It’s hard to put a figure on how much all this costs, but when a federal program is involved that also involves every state (and every county) in the entire United States, you can bet it’s considerable.

“Also, motor fuels taxes end up going to pay for things that have nothing to do with building or maintaining roads, such as funding mass transit projects or the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund. These may be worthy projects, but it’s a con to let people think they’re paying all these taxes solely in order to fund the roads they’re driving on.

“And then there’s the matter of all the political haggling that goes on, under which some states end up getting back less than they paid out. Motorists in, say, Montana end up paying to finance new roads for New Jersey.

“Probably, we could get much more bang for our buck — and lower motor fuels taxes — if we switched over to some system of “pay as you go” toll roads. Or at least, cut the federal government out of it entirely. …”