My, my, my. This week’s issue (March 2, 2008 ) of the Morrison County Record has all sorts of items opposed to the gas tax. There are three letters to the editor, plus an article in the Government section – an article that appears to have come from thin air because no writer has been attributed to it.

First, links to the three letters to the editor:

Tax increase will hit the little guy by Jason Malisheske

Ours is now one of the highest gas taxes by Joyce Heffron

Our greatest enemy may be greed by Margaret Kaiser

Malisheske and Kaiser complain that we don’t need a gas tax to pay for our roads and bridges because the money can simply come from somewhere else in the state’s budget. If there really was money in the budget for roads and bridges, don’t you think that’s what it would have been used for? Or are you suggesting that the State of Minnesota habitually misspends money, perhaps on frivolous things like health care and education? Which program do you suggest we cut in order to fully fund roads and bridges? Be careful here because from what I know about the state’s budget, we run a pretty tight ship and if you cut in the wrong place, somebody’s going to scream about it.

Kaiser suggests we inspect the budgets of the state departments that deal with roads and bridges “and have some accountability as far as who is getting the monies and personnel performance.” Really? Have you ever seen the budget of a large, complicated organization? From experience I can tell you that Profit & Loss statements and Balance Sheets and tracking the movement of funds from one area to another can be confusing even in a small organization. Now multiply a small organization’s budget by millions and see if that doesn’t make your head swim without someone on hand to explain it all to you. (Unless you have an accounting degree, even the explanation would make your head swim.) Does the public really want this job? And how are we to evaluate the performances of all personnel in order to ensure they are working appropriately and not wasting taxpayer money? The reason we have various departments in the state is because it would be impossible for the average citizen to take on these tasks. In fact, if it were that easy, we wouldn’t need separate departments at all. Yes, we want accountability and oversight, but how much time is Ms. Kaiser, or any of us other average fish, willing to devote to this responsibility?

All three letter writers say that we can’t afford to pay for a gas tax because the prices at the pump are already too high. Kaiser even mentions why prices at the pump are too high – because “Exxon declared the largest corporate profit in the history of the world – surpassing last year’s profits.”

At this point, it is appropriate to segue into the fourth item in this week’s Record concerning opposition to the gas tax. The article is titled Local GOP objects to Doty’s support of gas tax hike and it features a sound lambasting of Representative Al Doty’s vote to override Governor Tim Pawlenty’s veto of the gas tax. Of course, the article is quick to point out the Rep. Doty is from the DFL party and Gov. Pawlenty is a Republican, so the article, which has no byline, is obviously concerned with enhancing partisan politics, rather than simply sticking to the issue. (i.e. “Look! That guy’s bad because he’s DFL and liberal and he wants to spend all your money!”)

What I’d like to point out is that the article says that there will be “an increase of 8.5 cents per gallon gasoline tax,” of which 5 cents will be phased in between April and October of this year. When the other 3.5 cents, which will be used “to pay for $1.8 billion in bonding for projects between 2009 and 2018,” will be phased in wasn’t clear from the article. On top of this, there will be increases in tab fees and perhaps a sales tax increase, if voters outside of the seven metro counties approve of this in referendums.

Setting aside the increased tab fees, which are set based on the value of cars, and a potential sales tax increase, let’s look closely at that 8.5 cent per gallon increase. Tell me, when the price at the pump increases 8.5 cents due to market forces (i.e. Exxon decides it needs more profit), what do you do? You grumble, right? But then what? Do you picket Exxon or any other oil company? Do you write nasty letters to their corporate offices or call their shareholders to the mat? Are you one of their shareholders? (Check your IRA!) Do you ask the government to step in and limit the profits oil companies can earn? Do you do anything yourself to reduce the profits of oil companies, like drive less? Or, do you pay the price and go on with life?

Frankly, if you are willing to give 8.5 cents per gallon in profit to the oil companies, why aren’t you willing to put that money toward something you will see and use right here in your very own state? Or, are you one of those folks who expect to get something for nothing?

For the good of the pond,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel