Spartanburg Herald-Journal: Op-Ed – Tax increase unnecessary
Some lawmakers want to raise the state's gasoline tax.
The tragic collapse of an interstate bridge in
Minnesota has given them a reason. The state has a $2.9 billion backlog in bridge repairs, and the state gasoline tax hasn't been raised in 20 years.
It sounds reasonable.
Until you remember that the state had $1.7 billion in new money this year that it could have spent on road and bridge projects and didn't.
Lawmakers faced an easy budget this year. With all that new money, they didn't have to cut and do without. They gave a token amount back to taxpayers by trimming the sales tax on groceries and making a microscopic cut in the state income tax. But they spent the rest, about 88 percent, on their own priorities.
Now, they want to come back and ask taxpayers for more.
The answer should be a resounding no.
The taxpayers have given lawmakers a big enough budget surplus for the state to take care of that $2.9 billion backlog completely in two years.
It is necessary to repair the state's bridges, but it can be done with current state revenues.
Bridge repairs could have been under way already. Lawmakers considered allocating more money to roads and bridges but didn't. For the past two years, the state has experienced budget surpluses of more than $1 billion each year, and still lawmakers didn't take care of the state's bridges. With that record, it takes a lot of hubris to come back and ask taxpayers for more.
But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman doesn't want the state's general fund to be used to fund bridge repairs. He'd rather raise gasoline taxes as a "user fee" charged to those who drive on the roads.
This is nothing more than an excuse to raise taxes. The entire state benefits from a maintained highway system. There is no good reason not to use an overflowing general fund to pay for bridge improvements rather than raising taxes.
Lawmakers would do better to follow the plan of House Speaker Bobby Harrell, who has identified some forms of revenue, such as automobile sales taxes, that could be diverted from the general fund to pay for roads and bridges.
Next year is an election year, and voters should tell campaigning lawmakers loudly and clearly: There is no need for increased taxes if you will simply restrain your spending and allocate existing revenue to roads and bridges.
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