By Shelli Dawdy
To listen to the radio interview referenced in this article, click here.[1. If you attempt to listen to the show but are unable to do so, please let us know. We have been having a lot of trouble linking to KLIN’s shows recently. If the issue continues, we need to try yet another alternative method.]
This is actually a “triple dart” piece. Both District 25 Senator Kathy Campbell and KLIN DriveTime Lincoln and LIBA President Coby Mach deserve darts for buying in - hook...line...and sinker to a gas tax increase. It's a done deal, folks! Not only are they buying into this idea, both are advocating for a gas tax increase. The third dart is for Senator Abbie Cornett. (If you missed an earlier article about this Revenue Committee Chair, hang in there.)
It is hard to sort out what is most absurd about all of this. Kathy Campbell is a Republican elected official (whatever that "R" word means - I'd say she is a RiNO...but...). Coby Mach, in the very radio interview which prompted this article, dubbed his organization, LIBA (Lincoln Independent Business Association), "the most, if not one of the most conservative groups in Lincoln".
Campbell introduced a bill in the Unicameral (LB504) which proposes to DOUBLE Nebraska's gas taxes over a period of two years.
Mach actually surveyed members of LIBA regarding whether or not they would accept a gas tax increase to pay for new roads, and if so, what level of tax would they find acceptable? $.01, $.02, $.03, $.04, etc....per gallon? The talk show host actually informed the Senator that members were supportive of increasing the gas tax by as much as $.03 or $.04 per gallon for road building in Lincoln, but as a theoretical increase moved towards $.05, they soured. Thanks, for looking for the "price point", Coby.
When I embarked on the unpleasant chore of listening to Senator Campbell's interview, I assuredly expected advocacy for spending more of our tax dollars wastefully. Having observed a number of the Senator's legislative efforts last session of the Unicameral (click here for a sampling), it would have been difficult for me to expect anything else.
I did not expect that Campbell would announce her effort on the gas tax increase to be, for now at least, a "conversation" piece. She believes the conversation needs to happen about getting revenue for the building of roads. She referenced Governor Heineman's stated goal of tackling the issue of road and infrastructure in the next biennial budget (in two years) as the primary impetus for her introduction of the measure. Can Senator Campbell have that conversation with herself please? Maybe the wall? We'll get back to you on that doubling of the gas tax thing, Senator Campbell...let's do lunch...no, really...please. Don't call us...we'll call you. As a matter of fact, I think a lot of Nebraskans will definitely call you, email you, and write you.
As noted above, both the Republican Senator and the "conservative" talk radio show host readily accepted the idea that tax increases were necessary and would inevitably occur, it is only a question of when and how much.
An obvious assumption embedded in the push for tax increases is that all the money currently spent by government at both the State and local levels is well allocated, efficiently spent, a proper function of government, and that there simply is not enough revenue available to perform necessary functions. Further, an assumption that tax increases are necessary assumes that taxpayers can afford to pay more for gas. It's as if these ideas develop in a vacuum, absent any real-world circumstances.
And beyond that, this conversation piece, uh, excuse me, legislation has been introduced at a time when gas prices have again been dramatically on the rise. In the course of one day, for instance, at one Lincoln gas station, the price went from $2.90 to $3.15 per gallon.
Also in this fantasy land / vacuum, other taxes on gas and overall levels of taxation are ignored as potential factors to be considered. In addition to gas tax, a working Nebraska home owner pays...state income, federal income, payroll, property, sales, and wheel taxes, in addition to a flurry of licenses, fees, and surcharges for government and non-governmental "services" (looked at your cell phone or cable TV bill lately?). And I am quite sure I am leaving some forms of taxation out.
Yet another element that has been overlooked: other potential tax increases. As we've already reported, Senator Abbie Cornett, Revenue Committee Chair introduced no fewer than three bills proposing to increase our income and sales taxes and to subject a lengthy list of previously exempt items to sales taxation...for..."XXX" amount. We all like surprises, right? We have no idea what percentage increase our elected officials have in mind. Don't worry, Senator Cornett says it's in the event of "emergency" only. Would SOMEONE please define the word emergency as understood by an elected official and then as understood by people of common sense? I have a feeling there is a vast difference between the two.
I want to make sure I have this straight...we have two Nebraska Senators with introduced legislation that proposes to increase a number of taxes. One of them just wants to talk about it and one is introducing the bills...just in case? Is ANYONE else buying this nonsense? I don't even know which political party Abbie Cornett belongs to. The Unicameral's "taxation twins" look like they are members of the same club from what I can see.
For those who are very long time Nebraska residents, it may not be known that the cost of living in this state is just plain higher than any of our neighbors. Within the last ten years, I heard statistics that noted that Nebraska has the highest overall taxation in a nine state area. I did some digging to cite hard numbers on that information, but I'm going to have to keep looking to find a nine state comparison. In the meantime, I did locate a report by a group called Nebraska Renaissance that shows comparison figures of Nebraska's taxation compared to all its bordering states; Nebraska is higher taxed across the board from my examination of the figures and that taxation burden has been growing since 1992. Nebraska's income tax rate, for instance, is actually higher than the average rate for states that actually saw population losses between the 2000 - 2010 Censuses correlated to high taxation rates and large numbers of unionized workers.
Lincoln's cost of living may well be the highest in the entire state. The question should be: WHY?
Isn't it time to ask a whole lot more questions about how our tax dollars are being spent? If we are being taxed at higher than average rates, what is being done with that money?
What ARE the legitimate functions of government? Is it possible that government is trying to do too much and therefore, does not have adequate funds to build new roads?
Where does the gas taxation already collected go? Is it being mis-allocated?
Is our money being spent efficiently, or is there a lot of waste?
At the State level, revenues have been running continuously short; in order to avoid debt, which is against our Constitution, we have taken in an incredible amount of Federal dollars to avoid a very necessary "Come to Jesus" moment. Revenue short falls indicate a slow economy and/or faulty projection numbers. A slow economy means Nebraska tax payers are hurting.
Darts all around - one each for Senators Campbell and Cornett and Mr. Mach.
Please note: Stay tuned for MUCH more about taxation in Nebraska - we're going to need your help!
Notes: Please note that I have not had time to adequately examine the entire 192 page report by Nebraska Renaissance. While their data clearly points out serious problems with taxation in Nebraska, some of the proposed remedies do not align with GiN's Mission Statement and Principles. What Nebraska needs is a free market economy, not more government controls or selective favoritism for particular businesses and industries.