The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

24 August 2005

The wrong argument for SQ 723

A Tulsa World editorial, as quoted by Steven Roemerman:

[I]t is the height of hypocrisy to drive gasoline-guzzling vehicles but balk at raising enough money to build roads on which to drive them.

My car gets 25 mpg around town. Is it okay for me to balk?

The causality here is exactly bass-ackwards: the drivers of the guzzlers are putting more money into road-building than the rest of us already, simply because they use more fuel and therefore pay more in fuel taxes.

The road problems in Oklahoma are simple. The state has never taxed its citizens enough to build them.

Has the World ever met a tax it didn't like?

One of the big advantages of SQ 723, says Neal McCaleb of Oklahomans for Safe Bridges and Roads, the proponent of the new tax, is that "a constitutionally protected lock box feature ensures future transportation funding can never be diverted by the Legislature to the General Fund." It didn't seem to bother McCaleb that the Legislature was dipping into the fuel-tax revenues when he was the Secretary of Transportation; you have to wonder just how big a check what caused his change of heart.

Posted at 6:23 AM to Soonerland

The SQ 723 proponents assert the following:

  • Oklahoma's bridges and roads are hazardous due to dangerous disrepair, requiring about $9 billion to bring them all up to safety levels

  • Fuel taxes in Oklahoma are already lower than just about anyplace else

  • Raising the fuel tax with the constitutional restriction of using the money to repair bridges and roads is the easiest way to fix the problem
  • I'd have a better chance of handling this "Eek! A Tax! Flee!" mentality, CG, if you (or the GOP that announced its opposition this week) could demonstrate which one of these is not true. The GOP says it's #3 (your comments are neutering my "ol" tags - those are supposed to be numbered, not bulleted) but has yet to come up with any alternate plan.

    The Edmond Sun editorial you cite says the legislature has "solved the problem," but that's patently buschwa. For years, the Legislature has refused to budget enough for ODOT to pay the debt on existing road creation/repair bonds in addition to the normal annual budget ODOT needs to do its work.

    This year, faced with a State Question that amends the state constitution, the legislature gave ODOT the money it needs to pay the debt for this year.

    That does not, as the writer says, give ODOT "an additional $69 million to use on roads and bridges." It means ODOT can pay the debt on past bonds without having to dip into its normal budget for its normal work for this fiscal year.

    Next year, if a state question has not passed and is not forcing the issue, they can take the money back when Todd Hiett finds an emergency need for espresso machines in all Republican capitol offices, and nothing will have changed. The state question writes the change into the constitution, where the legislature can't tamper with it again on their own. It would require another vote of the people.

    (This, by the way, was the reason we were given that we just had to pass the odious SQ 714 - it didn't matter if Oklahoma law already prohibited same-sex marriage, because the legislature might become infected with 'teh gay" and reverse it all in one drunken night. If that was such a danger for something there was no evidence the lege would ever do, how can it not be a danger for raiding tax money that the lege has done for years and years?)

    I'm not necessarily pushing SQ 723, but the people opposing it (the anti-tax crowd, some shippers, and the oil industry) have just as much personal reason as the people pushing it (the road-building industries and some other shippers). If there is a problem, and fuel is undertaxed, and there's a simpler way to fix it than raising fuel taxes in a way that keeps the lege from using it for the centennial celebration, I want to hear it.

    Posted by: Matt at 9:56 AM on 24 August 2005

    There is one good thing about SQ 723: it eventually equalizes the gasoline and diesel taxes. The GOP-endorsed plan, of course, requires that we don't spend any money on anything if we can possibly help it.

    I pulled up that Sun editorial mostly for the anti-McCaleb stuff, not because I necessarily bought all of their premise; I continue to believe he's a weasel, even on those occasions when I think he might be right about something. (Similarly, I think the world would be better off without Hugo Chavez, but Pat Robertson is a complete jackass for calling for Chavez' assassination. Among other things.)

    By the way, SQ 714 was a property-tax issue; the odious anti-gay measure was SQ 711.

    Posted by: CGHill at 11:16 AM on 24 August 2005

    I wouldn't put too much stock in the Constitutional lock box. Here in Crappy NJ™, they've tapped the transportation fund so often for general waste and corruption that there aren't any monies left for fixing potholes. The commute from parts of my home city resembles driving on the moon. And the solution? Naturally, to raise the gas tax (which here, like in OK, is among the lowest in the USA). That's probably what has some folk worried about SQ 723. It doesn't mean that your bridges and roads don't need the repairs (as do ours!), it's just worry that you'll be saddled with permanent increases that will wind up bled into the main pot and not used for their stated purpose - you're poorer and your roads are still a mess.

    Posted by: Nightfly at 11:29 AM on 24 August 2005

    Matt hit it on the head I'd say ... I hate taxes too but if you can't fix it any other way with what we got ... then so be it.

    I have learned a lot from the public discourse in the press and other places(after filtering the vitriol)in the last few months AND the information I have gained HERE has helped me shape a better informed opinion.

    See Charles ... dustbury DOES add to the overall quality of people's lives :)

    Posted by: Ron at 12:23 PM on 24 August 2005

    You take that back! :)

    Posted by: CGHill at 12:56 PM on 24 August 2005

    Actually, I might vote for this thing just for the sheer hell of it; I think it's unconscionable that diesel should be taxed less than gasoline — the trucks that use most of that diesel are a lot harder on roads than your average guy in a Camry — and, well, we've seen what happens when the Legislature takes the initiative on its own.

    But I have no faith in lock boxes, for reasons detailed above and elsewhere, and being on the same side of an issue as the freaking Tulsa World gives me the fantods: the Lortons may be somewhat left of the Gaylords, but they have the same basic attitudes.

    Posted by: CGHill at 1:05 PM on 24 August 2005

    That's why it's a state question - it amends the state constitution. The legislature can't raid the fund unless the voters repeal the "lock box."

    This is the same rationale given for SQ 711 (got it right that time) or the "balanced budget amendment" and other bastions of fiscal and not-so-fiscal conservatism: we have to fix it so permanently that the lawmakers can't screw it up. I can already see them trying to dance around that philosophy for this issue.

    Posted by: Matt at 1:46 PM on 24 August 2005

    Uh, Matt?

    Name me ONE thing that one or several determined politician(s) can't find a way to screw up, regardless of the "safeguards", if enough effort is put into it.

    C'mon, I dare ya!

    Posted by: unimpressed at 2:23 PM on 24 August 2005

    Finding loopholes is an industry unto itself.

    Posted by: CGHill at 2:38 PM on 24 August 2005

    Money is fungible. There is no such thing as a "lock box" in government. The first rule of government is, "Don't trust the government." (OK version - "Don't trust the gubmint!"

    Yes, they supposedly can't reduce current funding to roads. How long before:
    1.) Someone gets an attorney general's ruling that it all depends on what the definition of "reduce" is.
    2.) A legislator or legislators sue and overturn this provision.

    And permanently giving the state greater taxing power is just a bad idea™ Forcing the legislature to live within its means and face the voters for its decisions is the right way to deal with this problem.

    I think it's unconscionable that diesel should be taxed less than gasoline — the trucks that use most of that diesel are a lot harder on roads than your average guy in a Camry
    Yes, it is. So raise the diesel tax. Now, THAT's a good idea. Even if you don't though, trucks use A LOT more fuel than a Camrys (Camries?), and thus pay a lot more tax.

    Finally, don't you think it's slightly unsavory that the bulk of this campaign's funding comes from contractors? That's shady, that is.

    Regardless, the pro side permanently lost my vote when they tried to make a petty political argument with the Cross. Wrong, so very, very wrong.

    Posted by: Dan at 3:37 PM on 24 August 2005

    I, for one, find it internally consistent to buy gas-guzzling four wheel drive vehicles and then balk at building roads. If one has a sport utility vehicle which can handle the brush well, why wouldn't one drive in it?

    Posted by: Brian J. at 8:16 PM on 24 August 2005

    Well, I have to maintain my position against it for the reasons Charles cited. Mcaleb(sp) didn't do anything to prevent the diversion of the previous money from the fuel tax to the general fund, and the lockbox provision as I read it just applies to the increase not the current level. The legilature also managed to work some tax cuts in to other things this year so if that is the case and we need more money for roads and bridges why did they do that?
    Yes, I could support raising the diesel tax to be equal to gasoline but then again they use a lot more diesel, but they also put more wear and tear on the roads and it wouldn't be bussiness friendly so the Daily Jokelahoman and the Tulsa Whirled would be against it.

    Posted by: anomdragon at 12:59 AM on 26 August 2005