Half Past the Month: The Gas Tax

February 8, 2017

“The impossible often has a kind of integrity which the merely improbable lacks.” — Doug Adams, author of “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”

IT IS STRANGE POLITICAL WEATHER when the Democrat plan makes more sense than the Republican one. The reason is not an ideological flip. It is that ideology has died — on the Republican side, at least.

Democrats, we have learned through painful experience, mean what they say, that is, adherence to the impossibility that government can solve every problem for every single person without cost. Free roads fit nicely into that sociopolitical approach and stand as an example — perhaps the only example — of successful application.

Thus we have a solid Democrat plan to pay for road improvements by freezing future corporate income tax cuts, affect various efficiencies and dedicate all sales tax on gasoline and special fuels to roads rather than to wherever the heck else it goes. “It’s not necessary to have new taxes or tolls in order to reinvest,” says a Democrat spokesman. “The problem we have up until this point is not a problem of revenue. It’s been a problem of priorities.”

Bingo. The Republican leadership, though, is selling to a strapped middle class the improbable story that now is a good time to absorb a 10-cent-a-gallon increase at the gas pump plus the attendant increases in groceries, dry goods and all else transported here.

And if you don’t think Republican legislators have other options, particularly in the area of education administrative spending, read Andrea Neal’s analysis this week of the K-12 budget and how little of it is actually for teachers and teaching.

So what’s happening here?

Most obviously, you are seeing the predictable result of absolute power. Indiana Democrats don’t have it so they are experiencing one of those rare moments of clarity. The Republican leaders have it so they are falling into the age-old temptation of treating us not as citizens but as taxable subjects, fiscal units.

Unwilling to take on the strenuous job of setting priorities and making cuts in a limited budget and within limited constitutional powers, the Statehouse leadership would turn the screws on the middle class, historic source of revenue for kings, emperors and assorted tin pots. But unlike kings, who claim to own everything by divine right, the Statehouse leadership would take back what it acknowledges is ours — property and choice — telling us it is for our own good (coded as “for the kids,” “infrastructure” and  “economic development”).

Less obviously, the GOP position is unaccountable. Who elected David Long or Brian Bosma to scratch these critical words from their copy of the Republican Platform? “We believe that budgets should be balanced and should reduce spending, rather than increasing taxation.”

If such hypocrisy prevails, GOP incumbents will get a shock this next election cycle.

— Craig Ladwig


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