When I was in the Legislature, I opposed tax increases unless we had tried everything else and the money to be raised from the tax was earmarked for very specific purposes.
In my personal opinion, we shouldn’t even be talking about raising the gas tax until we pass a lottery and see what kind of revenue it would bring in.
There’s no question that our roads and bridges in Alabama are in pathetic shape. In fact, nearly a quarter of our bridges in this state are considered to be unsafe or structurally deficient.
Our roads and bridges are in such bad shape that our schools are losing money on gasoline because school buses have to take longer routes in order to avoid the unsafe roads and bridges.
But raising taxes on gasoline – which disproportionately affects rural Alabamians and the middle class – should be a last resort and is only acceptable if we have eliminated all government waste and implemented a state lottery or other gaming legislation.
Most lawmakers know this. That’s why state leaders are having a hard time lining up the votes to pass their tax.
The leadership already knows they do not have enough votes among Republicans to pass this gas tax. They have said in the press that they need Democratic lawmakers to support it, even though Republicans have a supermajority that should allow them to pass any legislation they want without a single Democratic vote.
This gives a great deal of power to those lawmakers who are good negotiators and are willing to stand up to the leadership and demand their local road and bridge projects be earmarked in the bill.
But it also puts a great deal of pressure on lawmakers, especially those who are new to the Legislature and are afraid or unwilling to stand up to the those in power.
Too many politicians try to play both sides. They try to appease the leadership by voting in favor of the procedural votes that are required to pass the tax, and then they try to make their voters back home happy by voting against the tax on the final vote after the bill already has enough votes to pass.
That’s the coward’s way, and it does nothing to help the voters back home.
My hope is that our lawmakers will be who we need them to be and that they will not raise our taxes without first cutting out government waste and letting the people vote on a lottery.
But if legislators do vote for the gas tax, then it could be their last term in office. After all, voting to raise taxes is just like voting to give yourself a pay raise, and the people back home will remember it the next time your name is on the ballot.
The people of Alabama have been pretty clear about where they stand on raising taxes. Passing a new gas tax – especially one that includes additional automatic gas tax increases for the future – without cutting waste out of government or letting the people vote on a lottery is a sure way to lose the people’s support. And rightfully so.
One thing is certain: Once the votes are cast, we will find out who our legislators really are.
Craig Ford is the owner of Hodges-Ford Insurance and the Gadsden Messenger. He represented Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives for 18 years.