Posted: 08/10/07 16:35, Edited: 08/20/07 13:58
by Dave Mindeman
Let's talk the politics of the gas tax. In today's Star Tribune Opinion Exchange is a piece by Rep. Mark Buesgens from District 35B. He outlines the push back that will be used to put pressure on Governor Pawlenty to back off of his willingness to look at the gas tax for infrastructure. As Buesgens has determined, we shouldn't be making any tax decisions on emotion.... we should use a "reasoned" approach.
As he put it himself, "calling a special session now virtually ensures a gas tax increase".
I do not understand how you can look at transportation in Minnesota and not see the essential need for a gas tax. We can't borrow our way out of this. We have transferred and shifted funds in and out of transportation money so many times to balance budgets, it is hard to know what the real budgetary allowance is.
We could start by making sure transportation money stays put. No more shifts to other areas. And along with that, don't cut other areas to shift money back into transportation. That will only complicate other budgetary constraints.
Secondly, an increase in the gas tax is simply the fiscally responsible thing to do. We were $1.7 billion (that is a figure Pawlenty agrees with) behind on budget needs before the bridge collapse, and we will certainly see more requests for repairs,
But, let's digress a moment and discuss the politics of the gas tax. As many of you are aware, KSTP did a Survey USA poll about the gas tax, asking Minnesotans if they favored a gas tax to pay for infrastructure repairs. As the GOP is quick to point out, 57% said NO.
Republicans will smugly point to that poll during their no-tax arguments but they will leave out some important notes about public perceptions of gasoline taxes and energy questions.
Many polls have been done on public sentiment for gas taxes over the past few years. In February of 2006, a nationwide poll on this subject was conducted and when asked their opinion on increasing the gas tax, 85% said no. However, the same polls asked the additional question, "Would you support a gas tax increase if the money was used to reduce carbon emissions attributed to global warming or lessen dependence on foreign oil? 55% would support the tax under those conditions. Note, the two questions were asked in the same poll.
In April of 2007, another CBS/NY Times polls asked the following question:
"Would you be willing or not willing to pay higher taxes on gasoline and other fuels if the money was used for research into renewable sources like solar and wind energy?"
64% said yes.
In May of 2007, an MPR poll showed that 51% supported the nickel gas tax the DFL was proposing legislatively. Support dropped when asked to support a 10 cent increase.
In July of 2007, Rasmussen did a national poll on a Rep. John Dingell proposal of a 50 cent gas tax increase to fund road related projects. An overwhelming 86% opposed it..... however, in the very same poll 53% favored an increase in income taxes on people making $200,000 or more a year.
In May of 2007, another CBS/NY Times poll found the following:
67% favored tougher CAFE standards'
83% think they are being gouged at the pump.
70% favored a windfall profits tax on oil companies.
78% favored increased spending on alternative energy.
The real point is that people want some solutions but if taxes are involved, they want it connected to the problem. Gas taxes in light of current prices are hard to swallow, but people are willing to do it under circumstances they can understand.
A gasoline tax is a regressive tax. It hurts lower income people more than the wealthy. That is why support is generally poor when the question is a simple yes or no. The only redeeming value of a gas tax is that it can be a user fee if government would stop playing with money shifting and stick to a dedicated use.
Almost always, if you have a qualifier or a reason for the gas tax increase to occur, support will always climb.
Taxes should be a last resort.... and the truth is, we have done the borrowing thing to a fault. We have shifted money around to a dizzying degree. We have put off vital projects..... and we have even tried the embarrassing avenue of asking contractors to "float" us loans on MNDOT projects (The Crosstown).
Frankly, it would be nice if wealthier Minnesotans would put in a fairer share of the repair bill.... after all, the movement of goods and services are critical for a healthy corporate and business climate. But, that is a discussion for another day.
The needs are immediate and although the public may not like it, a gas tax is something they will accept if it is really utilized for the purpose intended. It is a dedicated repair bill..... not another avenue for a shifting budget balancing strategy.
This is also not simply an emotional response to a tragedy.... we have been through talks and discussions on gas taxes for years and have not acted since 1988.
We need to fix this. Governor Pawlenty got high marks for his handling of the bridge crisis..... now he needs to show some political courage and do the right thing. Call the special session...raise the gas tax and fix the bridges.