The gas tax and political will

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, Election 2010, Taxes, Transportation at 11:36 am by wcnews

In his latest post, Let’s talk honestly about a vehicle-miles-driven tax, DMN transportation writer Michael Lindenberger tries to talk sense about raising taxes to pay for our state’s transportation needs. There’s quite a bit in the piece too about the difference between a gas tax and a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax. But there are two parts to of the post that I’ll highlight here.

The problem with the gas tax isn’t structural, it’s political. It takes political will to raise those taxes — and that is how it ought to be. Raising taxes ought to be difficult, and it ought to be done only when politicians can make a heck of a good case for it.


What’s necessary is an honest discussion of whether Texas needs more money to build its roads and other transportation assets. Changing the way folks have to pay for those fixes isn’t the hard part. It’s convincing them to pay more.

What he appears to be saying is (a) it shouldn’t be easy to raise taxes, and (b) that taxes shouldn’t be raised until folks are convinced they should pay more. A is a given, but it’s unlikely that B will ever come, and that’s where the problem of leadership comes in.

Let’s back up for just a second. What we’ve been dealing with in our country for the last 30 years, and Texas for about 20 is the myth that government is bad and can do nothing right. And that every tax is bad, whether it helps children get health care, keeps bridges passable, build roads, or helps educate our people. And the other thing we’ve been lacking is a politician that will stand up and point that out.

Now, realistically, it would take quite a bit of change to get a gas tax increase through the legislature. Many, EOW included, want to beat up on the candidates for governor who haven’t yet come out for increasing the gas tax, or a specific plan to pay for future transportation needs. But I think a better question to ask the candidates is, would you sign a bill that included a gas tax increase in it if the legislature sent one to you?

Getting a gas tax increase through the legislature is an arduous task, with many opportunities for failure. It’s a tax bill so it must tat in the House (Transportation Committee, Calendars Committee, and two “readings” after that on the House floor). Then the Senate (Transportation Committee, get it on the intent calendar, get past the 2/3rds rule, and two “readings” on the Senate floor). And then likely to a Conference Committee, and then another pass through both chambers for any changes in conference. And Finally to the governor to sign. (See diagram).

One reason many in the legislature have been reluctant even to try is that they know, even if they get through all of that, the current governor would veto the bill. And it’s unlikely that there would be enough votes to overturn that veto. To even be able to override a veto a bill would need to be passed by early May, which means early action would need to be taken. Out of the 5 candidates Texas Governor who have appeared in debates I’d say there’s a good chance that three of them would sign a bill.

It should be an easy question to answer, if the legislature can work hard enough, and compromise enough to get a bill like this to you will you sign it? And if that’s the case then no candidate for governor, who believes we need more money for transportation in Texas, and understands which means are the fairest ways to pay for this, should be unwilling to sign a gas tax increase.

That being said, part of being a leader is being able to bring people along on policies that may not be popular but are needed. What’s been wrong recently with those who control our state’s government is that they too often want to take the easy way out. They tell us we can have something for nothing, but we all know that’s not true. Political will is overrated, especially when doing what’s right is needed. What’s needed is a leader who has the personal will to do what is right even when they don’t have the political will on their side.

1 Comment »

  1. HeavyDuty said,

    February 11, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Here’s a letter that the ‘Wilco County “republican” Sun’ refused to print, even after publishing the wishful thinking of the Lt. Gov. and Senate Finance Chair.

    Economists are predicting a state budget shortfall of at least $10 billion to as much as $20 billion. Our incumbent state senator, Steve Ogden, acknowledges a, “serious situation,” and that he, “knows where all the bodies are buried.”

    As a state Senator and Senate Finance Committee chair, Mr. Ogden’s primary responsibility was to help bury these bodies in pursuit of the legislative majority party’s fantasy of everything and a tax break.

    No new state revenue streams were generated by our state’s government while tax breaks were being doled out liberally. The result was that state services could not be cut fast enough to keep ahead of the growing, structural budget deficit.

    If one wants fewer state services (public schools and universities, infrastructure, etc…) then you merely vote to re-elect your incumbent state legislators.

    Good luck with that!

    If you’re tired of business as usual, then I offer an alternative. Please, read the articles posted on my blog:


    Then consider voting for me and a more constructive approach to state government.

    Stephen M. Wyman
    Candidate: TX Senate, district 5

    Yes, I have proposed increasing the fuel tax (and other revenue generating changes), because things like: schools, police, firefighters, EMTs, water, sewers, streets, bridges, etc… are the kind of things that are so easy to take for granted that no one tends to notice them, till they’re gone.

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