Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Bad tax policy makes bad roads

     Do local taxpayers think that roads that serve homes and businesses are a good idea? Is it desirable to link rural areas with our cities? Should roads be paved or just dirt or gravel paths? How much are we willing to pay for good roads?

     These are the questions voters will face this spring when they vote on Blaine County’s proposed two-year tax levy that would generate nearly $10.5 million for maintenance of roads and bridges in the county and its cities.

     Unfortunately, the levy proposal is a real-world manifestation of the widespread desire to pay no taxes. It’s a real-world demonstration that when it comes to national, state and local infrastructure there’s no free lunch. And, it’s a demonstration of the lie that all taxes are too high across the board.

     The Blaine County commissioners say that they’re being forced to ask local taxpayers to pay more for local road and bridge repairs because the money the county receives from state gas taxes hasn’t increased for nearly 20 years. Inflation and rising vehicle fuel economy, which has reduced the fuel sold in that period, have strangled the ability of government at all levels to keep roads in good repair.

     Today, Idahoans pay a tax of 25 cents per gallon of gasoline at the pump. That amount should have risen to 75 cents over the years, but the mantra of the Idaho Legislature’s nearly permanent Republican majority has been “no new taxes.” A measly 6-cent increase is before the Legislature this winter, with no guarantee of passage, and even it is controversial.

     The anti-tax sentiment of the Republican majority has consumed the good sense that once recognized that good roads make prosperous communities. It’s left counties and cities to resort to patchwork tax levies to fix bad roads created by bad tax policy.

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