February 17, 2015

A few weeks ago, the News and Observer was attacking the conservative majority in the Legislature for not doing something on infrastructure and declining gas tax revenue.

Now they’re mad the State Senate passed a plan to stabilize gas tax revenue in order to fund an infrastructure program. You can’t have it both ways, fellas.

To recap, the State Senate passed a bill recently to put a floor under the gas tax so it can’t fall below 35 cents a gallon. Under current law, the tax can gyrate up and down based on the price of gas. The Conservative plan cuts the tax immediately from 37.5 cents to 35 and then underpins it so it can’t drop any lower. Given the fact the American oil industry has busted the OPEC cartel with fracking here in America, the tax could plunge without the new floor, siphoning millions from the highway fund that builds and repairs roads.

The News and Observer claims the plan actually raises the gas tax because oil prices might go back up. Well, if these editors know what oil prices are going to do, why are they scribbling newspaper articles instead of trading commodities in New York? Because a lot of forecasters say oil and hence the gas tax will drop even further, depriving the state of the money to fix our roads.

In North Carolina, roads are primarily a state responsibility funded by highway user fees like the gas tax. We are second in the nation for the number of miles the state maintains. Other states require local government to fund roads through property taxes.

For example, Virginia makes counties and cities be responsible for more of the cost of roads. Property taxes are 40% higher in Virginia than here. According to the Tax Foundation, North Carolina property tax amounts to $900/capita, far lower than Virginia at $1322 or South Carolina at $1032 where localities also shoulder more of the burden. And with our unified state system, we can use economies of scale to reduce costs. We don’t have to have 100 county DOT’S bidding against each other. In fact, road paving costs in North Carolina are the lowest in North America.

Isn’t it fairer to pay for roads through a gas tax that has a relationship to how much someone drives rather than dumping the cost onto homeowners through the property tax even if they don’t use the roads that much?

The Conservative majority in the Legislature has made the decision to keep our highway fund from collapsing so roads can be built using highway user fees, not property taxes that are needed to fund schools and local police.

The Republicans are stabilizing the highway fund to build infrastructure. The News and Observer used to be for that. But now that the Republicans are doing it, they don’t like it.

Can there be a clearer example of blatant bias?

Reposted from Reality Check NC blog, a Carolina Partnership for Reform project.