IT’S TIME FOR ELECTED OFFICIALS TO TAKE A STAND AGAINST GAS TAX HIKES
|| By SARAH NUCKLES || That famous quote comes from a book by Air Force Major General Major Gen. Frederick C. Blesse – specifically his 1955 fighter tactics manual, No Guts, No Glory. General Blesse was referring to air-to-air combat, but I respectfully use his terminology to compare the combat that lawmakers and governors have been in for months with lobbying groups and their affiliated organizations – endeavoring to raise gas taxes to put more money into transportation projects which will line their collective pockets.
These groups have issued exaggerated and alarming statements in ads and press releases designed to create concern among lawmakers and citizens. They want us to believe “the sky is falling” and that huge amounts of money are needed to fix the problems with our roads and bridges. These groups and/or their members also make campaign contributions to assist legislators with their voting decisions.
For example, the TRIP report those widely circulated transportation cost projections, and its board of directors in Washington, DC, is made up almost entirely of firms who would directly benefit from an increase in gas taxes. The other firm widely quoted and heavily lobbying legislators is SCFOR (South Carolina Alliance to Fix our Roads). This group’s board also consists of members who will make millions of dollars from an increase in the gas tax.
Worse – the very same firms will make their project bids to state and national DOTs as high as they can in order to make the inflated numbers provided to lawmakers come true. Their attacks have been especially targeted this year, because the oil prices have gone down – temporarily – leaving them room to jump in and take that much-needed savings from the taxpayer, before oil prices rise.
Congress, state legislatures and governors need the guts to stand up and be bold, daring, and honest if they hope to turn back this coordinated and strategic attack. The combat is hand-to-hand, over the airwaves, and throughout mainstream media, and certainly in campaign contributions. The glory they should seek? The deep appreciation of the taxpayers and voters who elected them and the improved economy from lower taxes.
Ironically, there is never enough gas tax money for these transportation lobbying groups. Case in point – a recent ad in the Charlotte, N.C. area stated that the Tar Heel State had over 2000 structurally deficient bridges. One ad showed a school bus loaded with kids on a bridge that was collapsing – an emotional appeal. Its sponsor: the Chamber of Commerce – an organization that is pushing for higher gas taxes nationwide to benefit its member organizations.
The North Carolina campaign (and the campaigns being waged in many other states) reveals the true intent of the lobbying: To provide an unending stream of multi-million contracts to these firms doing the lobbying. According to the American Petroleum Institute, the State of North Carolina has almost the HIGHEST gas tax in the Nation – yet that is still not enough to satisfy the voracious clamoring of the consulting engineers and firms that directly benefit from higher gas taxes – to raise the gas tax even more.
Their intensive nationwide lobbying efforts are intimidating and intended to frighten taxpayers and legislators into paying more at the pump.
YES – we do need to maintain our infrastructure which has been neglected for decades, and just about anyone can point to their “favorite” pot-holes. But, our improved economy is already increasing the existing tax revenue streams to do so, and, there are other ways to put more revenue into roads without increasing gas tax. Also in South Carolina, a significant portion of the gas tax collected at the pump to maintain secondary roads and structurally deficient bridges goes to pay for projects that provide political benefit and not state-wide infrastructure benefit and maintenance of roads and bridges.
Reducing political influence is the kind of law that should be passed, but it will take guts for the General Assembly and the Governor to establish statewide priorities in ALL categories and ensure the SC Department of Transportation is spending that money in the most cost-efficient, prioritized manner, instead of paying millions of dollars to hire these same influence firms to grossly overstate the cost.
It’s a shame the moment citizens think they have a few extra jingles in their pockets from lower oil prices, our “conservative” elected officials see that as opportunity to increase taxes and dip their hands into our collective pockets, instead of letting the gas savings we have now continue stimulating the economy and increase tax revenues.
South Carolina has surplus revenues – NOW – and expects to have even more in coming years based on projections from the S.C. Bureau of Economic Advisors whose job it is to advise the Legislature and the Governor. That tax surplus from the improved economy should be used to fix our roads – not kicking the driver in the shins for trying to get to work at their new job by increasing the cost of gas, and spending the surplus on something else.
Since when is raising taxes the only solution in a “Republican” state? (I am a lifelong, conservative Republican). What happened to more efficiency, less government, and improving the economy? What happened to Ronald Reagan’s smaller government vision? Just say “no” legislators and governor. NO GUTS, NO GLORY!
And by the way, has anyone noticed there are no Democrats complaining about the gas tax increases proposed by Republicans? And did anyone notice that one Democrat, Bakari Sellers (D) Bamberg, actually proposed reducing the gas tax: “I am in favor of cutting every regressive tax we can find,” Sellers said.
We are certainly in an upside-down political world. NO GUTS, NO GLORY.
Sarah Nuckles is a former member of the S.C. Department of Transportation Commission. During her tenure, she was one of only five government officials in all of South Carolina to be honored by this website as a “Taxpayer Hero.”