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The truth about roads

Jack Lessenberry

Well, with great difficulty, the state senate passed a package of roads bills yesterday. They would raise some new revenue, shift billions over time from other priorities to the roads, and include a complex formula for a possible income tax cut.

Getting it passed took Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, who cast a rare, tie-breaking vote. The main Senate bill, the one raising the gas tax, was opposed by an unusual coalition: All the Democrats except the infamous Virgil Smith, and nine Tea Party-type Republicans, who would probably oppose a tax increase even if it were the only way to save the planet.
There are some good things in this plan, and it is far better than the house plan, which eliminates a tax credit for the working poor, raids funds for economic development and relies mostly on a magical belief that the economy is bound to grow.

Neither plan, by the way, raises quite enough to fix the roads, but the Senate plan is far better. Both do have a couple positive features; they require state and local road commissions to get full replacement warranties for any significant project, and require competitive bidding as well, ideas long overdue.

But we still have no idea what, if anything, will finally pass both houses, Us old timers whose memory extends back, say, six months, remember that at the end of last year the House and Senate also passed drastically different road bills, and could never agree on a compromise. Instead, they gave us the world’s most unpopular ballot proposal, which four out of every five voters angrily rejected.

Back then, everyone said there was no “Plan B.”

Well, now we are looking at Plans B and C. But we don’t know if either, or a marriage of the two, will become law.

The main problem with the House bill is simple. It is not grounded in reality.

The main problem with the Senate bill is that it relies on cutting an already strained general fund by seven hundred million a year, without saying where that will come from.

If they were to specify that this would come exclusively from corrections, by freeing nonviolent offenders that don’t need to be there, I’d be an enthusiastic supporter. But as of now, it seems more likely they’d find that money by raiding revenues set aside for education and local government, which would be a disaster.

Virgil Smith, who faces multiple felony charges and may fear expulsion, said yes to that. But fear of these cuts is why all the other Democrats voted no, with Jim their leader in the state senate saying, “if history is the greatest predictor of the future, we can say with relative certainty that the lion’s share of these cuts will … impact working families, our public schools, our community colleges and universities, police and fire, and so on.”

This would come after we’ve cut nearly half a billion dollars in aid to higher education in the last fifteen years, and already eliminated most of a tax cut for the working poor.

Maybe that’s what we want to do. But we at least should honestly face and admit that by passing these bills, our representatives are doing it.

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