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Opinion | Vengeance or mercy: Let’s kick ’em while they are down!

A true economic, moral, social and constitutional conservative; DOES NOT RAISE TAXES.  Rumblings are emerging at every intersection that our Alabama Legislature, led by Republicans are discussing raising our gas tax.  You heard it, Republicans are talking about raising taxes.  There are generally three common denominators associated with the discussion of raising taxes.  As a rule of thumb, it is Democrats leading the discussion, secondly when revenues are down in a struggling economy, and finally when the economy is booming.  When our economic environment is stable, tax payers are lulled to sleep by this debate, and then wake up one day with this elephant sitting on them.  The question I hope to answer in this article is how did Republicans get themselves into this posture, and for mercy sakes, how does this become a legislative priority?  Let’s explore this together.  

While I support Trump, he opened the already cracked door in Alabama to this discussion of raising our gas tax.  Every year, you can always depend on the associations of Road and Bridge Builders, Civil Engineers, League of Municipalities, and County Commissioners to beat the drum for more road and bridge money.  There is always a manufactured crisis and they will show a dated picture of a dirty school bus crossing a bridge that looks fresh out of the movie “Deliverance.”  Frustrated by bureaucracies of airport services around the country, when Trump One would pull in, it triggered the President launching this notion of infrastructure improvement.  Trump was talking about tax cuts on one hand, which is a good thing and misfired in the message of raising taxes for infrastructure.  You have noticed he has throttled back on this concept after conservative groups who faithfully supported his candidacy, educated him that this is a Democrat issue for several reasons.  Nationally, the conversation of infrastructure is code that someone’s taxes are going up.  It also means union labor, which generally supports Democrats increase their campaign contributions, many hand outs with sweetheart deals, kickbacks, scandals and misappropriated funds over these large sums of money.  They always get your eye off the ball of the damaging attributes of raising taxes with side shows, shiny objects and of course creating a fabricated crisis.   

Ascend with me a little higher on the mountain so we can get a clear documented view of the current tax burden on the American taxpayer, it is ALARMING!  Taxpayers will spend more on local, state and federal taxes annually than they do on housing, food and clothing combined, approximately 20 percent more.  Another sobering thought is somewhere around April 19, 2019, taxpayers will earn enough money to pay for all local, state and federal budgets.  That is right; we work for four months free, and then only eight months for our families.  This four month period does not include fees, license and also factoring in the national deficit, which extends the break even point. 

Looking closer at Alabama, we rank 5th in the nation of having the highest local and state sales taxes.  That is right; our local and state sales tax rate is higher than California and New York.  In terms of high taxes for gasoline, Alabama ranks 37th, our neighbor Georgia is 20th and Pennsylvania is first.  In Alabama, when analyzing property tax, unemployment insurance tax, sales, individual income tax and corporate tax rates; we have an overall ranking in the U.S. at 32nd out of 50 states.  All of this is raw data collected and reported by the Tax Foundation, and I encourage everyone to confirm these findings.     

Today Alabamians pay a total of 41.31¢ in state and federal taxes on gasoline and a total of 46.29¢ on diesel.  The last time the legislature raised gasoline taxes was in 1992 when gas prices lowered to $1.13 a gallon.  The legislature raised the gas tax by 16¢ a gallon then and now the discussion ranges from 15¢ – 25¢.  Proponents who are pushing us for the tax increase will cite a 2015 American Society of Civil Engineers national study scoring Alabama with a D+ on our roads and bridges.  Two observations: one, while I have many good friends who are civil engineers, please keep in mind this industry segment embraces all gas tax increases, because it directly affects their income.  Secondly, by choice I live on a rural dirt road along with many cattle and poultry farmers, we also have school bus routes on these roads.  When it rains sure our roads are messy, but the county keeps them scraped and compromised bridges are replaced by priority.  Farmers can get their products to market and our school children get to school every day without a road or bridge incident.  

In summary to my friends in the legislature who are being noticeably swayed by the notion of raising gasoline taxes; please consider these observations.  You cannot have it both ways; it is an oxymoron to continue economic development news of record proportions of capital investments and new jobs created and earn the reputation of Republicans in control of all three branches of government raising taxes.  Economists predict a 2.44 percent increase in the rate of inflation in 2019, which will impact all of us at the cash register.  Alabamians join other Americans in finally beginning to emerge from one of the most grueling recessions in decades, feeling a huge reprieve in gas prices for the first time in years and seeing some relief in the tax cuts by Trump and Congress.  Are you going to show mercy and help people get back up on their feet or take the route of the school yard bully and kick-um while their down. 

Leadership yielding to raising taxes is a very weak solution; very weak.  It is hard work and you have to break a sweat to dig in and drill down into the pork barrel waste, middle man handouts, huge contracts, tough negotiations, cost overruns, and in some cases the temptation to raid the public trust.  You can’t embrace the President’s tax cuts on one hand and raise taxes on the other; that friend is a forked tongue and will not pass the public smell test.  We all know that opportunist borrowed the President’s infrastructure message, revved up the RPM’s and popped the clutch, but there is another page in the Trump book you might consider.  How about the Air Force One, Jerusalem Embassy and the F-35 negotiations that saved billions.  

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I suggest you throttle back on the Democrat infrastructure talking points and get into some hand to hand combat like the President did with these powerful companies and emerge with some huge savings for your fellow Alabamians.  Republicans are supposed to be noted for solutions, tough leadership and making one dollar do the work of three.  Raising taxes is a visible sign of weakness and has the Democrats DNA all over it.  We just buried a Republican U.S. President that once made a campaign promise on no new taxes and said, “Read my lips,” then during his administration raised taxes and he was defeated by Clinton.  

Are you going to show MERCY and help your fellow Alabamian’s with a hand up after twelve hard years; or are you going to show VENGEANCE and kick-um while they are down and the price of gas is a record low to mask the pain?

John W. Giles is former President of the Christian Coalition of Alabama. He served as Small Business Advocate for the State of Alabama during Governor Guy Hunt's Administration. He was also a member of Governor Fob James Cabinet.

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