Because I brought it up last week and the discussion continues in this week’s Morrison County Record, let’s talk about the gas tax again, shall we? In last week’s Record, there were several items opposing the gas tax. In this week’s Record (March 9, 2008), there are several items in support of the gas tax, plus one that yammers on about fiscal responsibility by not instituting any new taxes.

Let’s start by listing the articles that support the gas tax.

Maintenance costs have outstripped highway revenues – a Guest Editorial by Steve Backowski, the Morrison County engineer and public works director. This article gives a nice background about exactly where our transportation dollars go and how the costs of maintaining roads and bridges have continued to rise, while the revenue for these costs has fallen. While Steve doesn’t directly refer to the new gas tax, it’s obvious from the tone of the letter that he supports bringing new funding into the state’s transportation system.

All will benefit from the increase – a Letter to the Editor by Gary Gannon of Randall. This is a general letter listing some of the benefits of having a gas tax and mentions that there will be a $25 tax credit to offset the costs of the gas tax for low income families in the state.

It really means ‘know new taxes’ – a Letter to the Editor by Leif Johnson of Burtrum. This letter in support of the gas tax takes a slightly different twist. Leif mentions that we don’t complain when the price of gas rises “whenever Bush’s buddies in the oil companies decide to pad their record profits. Yet, we scream at 7 1/2 cents when it’s a tax.” He explains in his letter how the Pawlenty administration has pushed taxes onto local governments in order to keep his “no new taxes” pledge. He also lambastes the Republican party for removing the six Republicans from their “leadership positions on committees for daring to cross the governor” and suggests that Pawlenty might make a good dictator in Iraq. Yeah, about that removal of Republicans from their committees – what are the Republicans trying to prove? That they’re tough? That they won’t tolerate disagreement or someone breaking party ranks? Wasn’t it the Republican party that was all for individual freedom? I guess not. What the Republicans better wake up and realize is that such punitive actions will eventually backfire on them. Give it time. Squash people long enough and they are bound to rise up and fight back.

Let’s clear up inaccuracies about state transportation bill – an article by Guest Columnist Al Doty, the State Representative of District 12B. I’d love to give you a link to this article, but the Record didn’t see fit to put it online. It’s not for lack of looking that I couldn’t find it. I searched the links for Headlines, News, Viewpoint (and all subheadings), and Government. I even did a search for Al Doty’s name. Nothing. I just don’t get this.

Meanwhile, the strange little unsigned editorial from the Republican party attacking Doty in last week’s paper made it online. In fact, I found it when I was searching Doty’s name. Funny that the Record’s policy is not to accept an unsigned editorial, but the local GOP had been given a pass on this requirement. Sharp-eyed reader Marge Young of Little Falls caught onto this same issue and submitted her Letter to the Editor about it, asking “What was that? ” in reference to the article.

Because Doty’s well-written article concerning the gas tax isn’t online, I shall have to give you a summary. Doty is concerned with clearing up inaccuracies that have been circulating concerning the bill. He said, “It’s been 20 years since we’ve had a comprehensive funding package for our roads and bridges.” Meanwhile, the roads and bridges continue to deteriorate, along with the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) budget. Because the state’s revenue is no longer fully covering transportation expenses, local property taxes have been used to fill in the gaps.

Doty explains how “the debt on MnDOT’s trunk highway fund has grown by 650 percent” within the past five years because the state has chosen to keep borrowing money for transportation instead of finding ways to raise the revenue to fund it. He gives figures for how much the gas tax will cost the average Minnesotan per year and then explains how not maintaining our roads eventually costs us more than the tax in the long run because it takes longer to deliver goods and services over bad roads. He says that the gas tax “will bring an additional $12 million into Morrison County over the next 10 years and Little Falls will receive an additional $1.2 million to fix local streets.”

Perhaps my favorite line in the whole article is this one: “I have said in the past that while I know people in my district don’t enjoy paying more taxes, they know enough to fix a leaky roof before it ruins their whole house.”

I absolutely agree with Doty on this, which is why I wasn’t pleased with Representative Sondra Erickson’s article called A return to fiscal responsibility needed. Like Doty’s article, this one doesn’t appear online at the Record’s website either. (Once again, what’s up with that?)

Erickson goes into the usual Republican rant about “the overspending Democrats and the fact they kicked off this session with the largest tax increase in modern Minnesota history.” She wants “a return to that common-sense style of bookkeeping . . . in order to get us back on firm financial ground.” She blames “excessive taxing and spending” for our deficit, which “is predicted to rise by $562 million.” I’m not sure where Erickson has been hiding, because she has to be pretty familiar with Governor Pawlenty’s refusal to raise taxes to pay for anything. Instead, he keeps raiding the tobacco settlement and foisting expenses off on county and city governments. Oh, and then he raises “fees” on government services. If a fee isn’t a tax, I don’t know what is.

The point Erickson and the rest of the Republicans seem to be missing is that you can’t spend what you don’t have and the traditional way the government has of raising revenue is through taxes. Borrowing money that our children and our children’s children will have to pay back, which is the favorite maneuver of the Credit Card Conservatives, is not going to work forever. The Dems understand fiscal responsibility with their pay-as-you-go philosophy.

In case you missed it, I support the gas tax because it’s our fiscal responsibility to support the government services we desire.

Paying for the seaweed I consume,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

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