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Saturday, April 08, 2017


Some states build the future; others hope for magic beans

by Tom Sullivan

Some states build the future. Others argue they can't afford one. At least that's the conclusion one might draw from two recent legislative battles over infrastructure spending. Guess which kind of state California is. From Mother Jones:

Yesterday, the California legislature passed the largest gas tax increase in state history in a move projected to raise $52 billion over 10 years to fix the state's crumbling roads, bridges, and public transit systems. The state already has some of the highest gas taxes in the country. But the falling price of gas, increased fuel efficiency, and the popularity of hybrid and electric vehicles has recently crimped tax revenues, contributing to an estimated $135 billion backlog in road and bridge repairs. The new tax is designed to plug that gap with a 12-cent per gallon increase in the gas tax, as well as new taxes on diesel fuel, a $100 annual fee for electric cars, and higher vehicle registration fees.

California now joins 17 other states—half of them controlled by Republicans—that have enacted gas tax increases since 2013. Yet this approach remains a nonstarter for many Republicans on Capitol Hill and within the Trump administration, which are pushing a national infrastructure plan funded by granting tax credits to private investors.
Gov. Jerry Brown said after the vote and the arm twisting was over, "The Democratic Party is the party of doing things, and tonight we did something to fix the roads of California.” There were of course dissenters:
Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Temecula) said the tax hikes will hurt small businesses and low-income families, who he said would have to choose between buying gas or food.

“The state Senate tonight passed yet another tax on hardworking Californians because we continue to fail the people by wasting money on programs we can't afford,” Stone said after the vote.
It's a familiar refrain. Not unlike the one leveled at raising the minimum wage. Nick Hanauer had a tweet thread on that last night pointing out the non-fallout from Seattle's minimum wage hike.

Meanwhile, in a state whose interstates I try to avoid, they've been trying to find funding to repair crumbling roads for years. Over $1 billion a year will be needed in South Carolina for the next 25 years "to bring the state's existing highway system — the nation's fourth-largest, with 41,400 miles of roadway — up to good condition." But U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley's replacement as South Carolina governor and her former colleagues are unwilling to pay the upkeep through increased taxes or borrowing:
Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Governor Henry McMaster says he will veto any bill approving a gas tax increase on South Carolina drivers.

On Tuesday morning, Gov. McMaster sent a letter to the South Carolina House of Representatives saying:

“I do not believe the answer requires the government to increase taxes on our people or to continue to accommodate the outdated and unaccountable decision-making process imposed and abetted by law, policy and politics through the conflicting interactions of the Department of Transportation, the department’s commission and the State Infrastructure Bank.”
That's Personal Responsibility Party for "I'll veto any bill that doesn't repair state highways with magic beans."
“The fact that we would borrow the funding to pay back on a later date is somewhat problematic,” says House Majority Leader Rep. Gary Simrill.
But that's how loans work. (Republican lawmakers seems to have similar trouble grasping insurance risk pooling.) Loans you pay later. Taxes you pay up front. Magic beans you can get for a cow.

Our more pedantic conservative friends like to lecture that there's no free lunch, yet govern as if there is. It is as if they are still trying to work out how to get their constituents something without paying for it, even as they vilify the poor they believe do just that. In California, somebody's figured out you get what you pay for.