I once employed a landscaper whose work was nothing short of magical.

Joe, who hailed from Bari, Italy, performed near-alchemy on the lawn at Chez Carlino, taking a quarter-acre lot laden with poison ivy and towering weeds and transforming it into a layer of deep green brush-pile carpet.

I won't disclose the amount of money we have spent over the years on Joe's services, but needless to say it could have easily gotten us a lengthy European vacation.

Then, misfortune struck.

One of his crew members inexplicably left a riding mower in the middle of the driveway, which, for reasons unclear to this day, my wife failed to see as she backed out.

The predictable result was a not-so-subtle wound to the rear quarter panel, which the local body shop estimated would cost roughly $700 to repair.

Being a reasonable man, I proposed to Joe that we should split the bill, since we both appeared to be at fault. By his response, you would have thought I'd asked him to hand over his first born. His Italian temper erupted like Mount St. Helens, and in language that was not lost in translation, he said the best he would do was to throw in a free bag of fertilizer.

So, for a $25 bag of lawn feed, we could call it even.

Recently, GOP Senate members proposed a multibillion-dollar tax increase on oil and other companies as part of an eight-point package of energy initiatives. And in it was a bag of fertilizer for motorists, so to speak.

The GOP measure included issuing $100 taxpayer rebate checks as compensation for rising gas prices or roughly the cost of a fill-up for a Hummer or Escalade.

Admittedly that's a bit more recompense than a bag of fertilizer, but thisclose to insulting to motorists who need to take out a second mortgage for a full tank. Fortunately that portion of the legislation appears DOA.

The GOP package would also allow controversial drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and fund research into alternative fuels.

To help fund the rebate checks - which would have totaled $15 billion -- Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., proposed eliminating the LIFO -- last-in first- out -- accounting rule used by oil companies and other manufacturers to reduce their tax liability. That proposal, as you can imagine, did not go over terribly well with businesses who employ LIFO, especially when prices of goods - i.e. oil - are soaring and the LIFO method allows companies to essentially pare down their taxable income.

If they drop that portion of the measure, as they have stated they will, the other option, of course, was to distribute the checks, eat the $15 billion and simply tack it on to a ballooning deficit.

Make no mistake: I doubt anyone who drives would not have sprinted to the bank to cash a rebate check. But $100 doesn't begin to address what needs to be done with regard to energy reform, which would require more room and time to espouse than I have here or you would care to read.

When we purchased our Honda Accord several years ago, we naively did not envision $40 fill-ups.

Our family had planned a driving vacation to Montreal in August, but may need to perform a thorough cost-analysis beforehand.

In the interim, I'm now doing my own landscaping.

For me, it promises to be a long, hot summer.

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