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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Officials' rally urges reinstatement of gas surcharge


Staff writer

Diet members, governors, mayors and local assembly members gathered Friday in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward to call for the reinstatement of the provisionally higher levies on gasoline and auto-related taxes that expired on March 31.

Fukuoka Gov. Wataru Aso, head of the National Governors' Association, stressed that local governments have had to redirect funds to the road budget and put a freeze on expenses to execute general policies.

"The local governments have now surely fallen into a state of confusion," Aso said. "If this situation continues, we'll be hard-pressed just to maintain and manage roads. We would not be able to create new roads or make progress on (roads) that are already under construction."

Gasoline prices went down by about ¥25 per liter starting April 1 after the opposition camp-controlled Upper House refused to back the ruling bloc's call to extend the provisional extra tax rates before the March 31 expiration date.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura, who made an appearance as a guest at Friday's gathering, stressed that the higher tax rates on gasoline are also important from the viewpoint of environmental measures, pointing out that Japan's current gasoline prices are now half that of Britain, France and Germany.

High gasoline prices "are helping curb gasoline consumption and taking action against global warming," Machimura said. "If Japan is the only one to lower the price of gasoline, we would indeed be sending the wrong message" that Japan is not seriously trying to curb global warming.

Although deemed "temporary," the special higher tax rates on gasoline and other auto-related levies had been in place since the 1970s, with the revenue set aside solely to finance road construction.

But Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has vowed to free up the revenue for other purposes in fiscal 2009, a plan the government and ruling coalition officially agreed on last week.

Later Friday, the ruling and opposition parties held their first cross-party talks on road policies. They are set to begin talks on freeing up the revenue from gasoline and other auto-related taxes next week.

LDP Diet affairs chief Tadamori Oshima said he hopes a conclusion will be reached by fall.



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