The CEO of General Motors, Daniel Ackerson, has frequently reminded employees and the media that he is a Republican who prefers smaller government. But in an interview with The Detroit News published today, the day of his first shareholder meeting, he also has called for higher taxes on wealthy Americans and a new stiff gasoline tax.
Akerson, who became a board member at GM in 2009, appointed by the White House Auto Industry Task Force, became CEO last year. It was after his White House-appointed predecessor, Edward Whitacre Jr., stepped down before the automaker’s initial public stock offering after the company emerged from bankruptcy.
A former naval officer and telecommunications executive, Akerson described himself in the Detroit News article as a “Colin Powell Republican,” not a “Sarah Palin Republican.” That he should describe himself at all in political terms is a novelty among big industrial company CEOs.
Most CEOs, while they frequently donate money to political campaigns, refrain from talking about their personal politics and voting preferences. Why? Many donate to both Democrats and Republicans, depending on which party is in power, as well as favoring candidates and sitting representatives who can do their companies the most good in terms of influencing votes and policies, and attaching riders to bills that make exceptions for their businesses. They have to do business with politicians on both sides of the aisle.
Higher Income and Gas Taxes Needed
There are hardly two issues less popular with Republicans than increasing taxes on tax payers earning more than $250,000, or increasing gas taxes. Akerson says he believes that a new fifty-cent to $1 per gallon gas tax would be a much more sensible approach to promoting sales of fuel efficient cars and trucks than forcing automakers through legislation to build them and then hope consumers buy them no matter if gas is $3.00 per gallon or $5.00 per gallon.
For the years 2017 to 2025, federal officials are considering mandating 3 percent to 6 percent annual fuel efficiency increases, or 47 mpg to 62 mpg. That could boost the cost of vehicles by up to $3,500.
“There ought to be a discussion on the cost versus the benefits,” Akerson said. “What we are going to do is tax production here, and that will cost us jobs.” “You know what I’d rather have them do – this will make my Republican friends puke – as gas is going to go down here now, we ought to just slap a 50-cent or a dollar tax on a gallon of gas.”
Akerson favors the European approach: Laying on higher gas taxes to keep the price of fuel high enough that consumers make predictable buying decisions because they know the price at the pump will stay high.
The GM CEO also says that his party colleagues should let up on refusing to raise taxes and not mess around with not raising the debt ceiling this summer: “I think you need to cut the hell out of the budget and you’ve got to increase taxes … on everybody – including the middle class and the rich people.”
Obama Has Done A Good Job
Congress, Akerson said, should raise the debt ceiling from its current $14.3 trillion mark. If it doesn’t, the government could default on its debt on Aug. 2. “We’re too good a nation to let ourselves be a banana republic,” Akerson said, warning that a default would be “unimaginable” and could hurt auto sales.
Before the 2009 bailout of GM and Chrysler, another government measure that the CEO favored even before he became a board member or CEO and about which he splits with his Republican colleagues, GM had a favorability rating of just 16% with consumers, according to surveys. That measurement, tracked by pollster Peter Hart, is now at 65%.
That would indicate at least indirect support of the bailout of the auto industry even if less than half the country in 2009 was in support of risking tax-payer dollars on keeping GM in one piece, albeit dramatically reorganized and with new management.
Akerson in previous public statements has indicated that he did not vote for President Obama in the 2008 election. About the President’s economic policy today, though, Akerson told the News that President Obama has “done a pretty good job on the economy,” which, he said, was “a nightmare” when the President took office. “I don’t think he can fix it in four years and I think we just have to stay the course,” he said.