Tuesday, February 26, 2008

An argument worth having 

My own representative, Larry Haws, is quoted in the local paper (not online, and my copy is at home so I'll do this from memory) saying he voted for the transit tax bill and its override based on thinking the gas tax was a better way of getting that money than getting it from grandma through property or income taxes. Again, not exactly those words, but that was the gist of what he was saying. And that's an argument worth having, a basis for voting that I can respect because that's the real choice that was made yesterday. I disagree with it vigorously, though.

I received a prepared email assailing yesterday's vote sent to a group of individuals mostly living in the Twin Cities directed against DFL Sen. Linda Berglin. I'm not sure how I ended up on this list, but it contains a number of prominent private citizens who I know to be conservative. One such individual sent back a message.

I agree that our overall tax structure is too high, but we need the roads and we need money to fund them.

I never thought that I'd support anything that Linda Berglin supported, but here it is. Thank you Linda.
I believe the description of my reaction would be 'gobsmacked', if you were British. I am admittedly one to respond to people who write things to me that leave me in such a state, and this was no exception.

I notice your address is in Minneapolis. I live in St. Cloud. Approximately 13,000 St. Cloud residents (out of the 105,000 workers in our area) drive outside our metro area to work each day, and most of those drive to some place in the seven-county metro. It�s about a 75-mile one-way trip. Assuming they get the average fuel efficiency of American cars, your �need� just cost my friends an extra $172 just to commute to work and back. They�d buy a more fuel-efficient car, but your �need� just hit them with an extra $200 for their tabs.

So as you enjoy the new roads and bridges you �need� � which will be not many, since a big chunk of this money will go for the half-empty trains you�ll watch while waiting at a crossing (but you�ll be waiting on new roads! O joy!) � thank a St. Cloud resident.
Using our benefit principle discussion from yesterday, I assume you to say that the commuters are paying for roads they benefit from so are properly charged. But the point is that all taxation and expenditure involves a reallocation, and the extra $172 is not going to improve I-94 or US 10. It's not going to be used to build a connector in Clearwater between those two highways. Rep. Haws chose to have his own residents who work outside of St. Cloud, who are likely to be wage earners with families, bear a larger burden instead of grandmothers. Even if we accept the premise of our interlocutor, that we "need" roads and bridges and even if we assume that we actually will get roads and bridges and not just more transit projects, what makes Grandma more deserving of protection from government taxation than the family trying to better themselves, provide for their children, and producing goods and services people want to buy?

As the old saying goes, those who rob Peter to pay Paul can always count on Paul�s support. If you're Grandma, Rep. Haws is your hero. If you're a worker commuting from St. Cloud to Hennepin County, or from Randall to Waite Park to work in our manufacturing plants, Rep. Haws decided you are Peter.

Here's Peter's friend
. I don't know if he would tax Grandma more; he might just decide to make some real budget choices.

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