The following are excerpts from a letter to constituents on March 3, 2015
We just competed our 9th week of the 63rd Legislature. Things are getting busy. However, we have introduced about 8% fewer bills and resolutions in 2015 than 2014. That should be considered good news. Our original target date for going home, which is formally referred to as “sine die.” was March 27th. With the education “Career Ladder” and a Transportation solutions still working through potential legislation, I doubt you will see us declare “sine die” until early April.
With this letter, I hope to bring you up to date on some of the issues that have received some news over the past two weeks. Education and Transportation continue to be the big news items, while other legislation seems to make headlines. We have had floor votes on issues including Eminent Domain, Parental Rights, Fines for violation of Open Meeting Laws and a resolution to declare a week in September “Diaper Need Awareness Week.” When I heard about the last one, I nearly needed one.
Over the past few weeks you may have read or heard in the media about some of the legislative challenges we are facing with Transportation funding. Funding is always a challenge as it addresses not only the costs of providing a transportation system, but who pays for these costs. While a majority of citizens have responded that we need to increase our investment in our roads and bridges, there is a wide disparity on how we should proceed. Some of the options being considered are an increase in fuel taxes and registration fees.
Two other options, under discussion, are increasing sales taxes to 7% and utilizing the revenues to fund the deferred capital and maintenance costs of our roads and bridges. An increase in sales tax could provide an opportunity to remove the sales tax on groceries, and eliminate the grocery tax credit. This has been a popular goal for many years. Others have suggested we consider using a direct appropriation of existing general fund revenues to fund transportation. To utilize funds from existing revenues, no tax or fee increase, would jeopardize many other state priorities. Education, which accounts for approximately 60% of our general fund appropriations, would have the most to lose.
There is an estimated $265 million capital deficit for roads and bridges. While most of us agree we need to take action, the how, how much and when is still being discussed. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Aristotle, some 2400 years ago. He stated, “To give away money is an easy matter, and in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it,… and, how large, …..and, when, …and, for what purpose, …and how, is neither in any man’s power….nor an easy matter.”
So this is where we find the legislature, trying to sort through all the options to find ways to utilize the public’s money. As Aristotle said, this is not an easy matter. Each of us needs to hear from our constituents. We must balance the numerous opinions and then decide. It has been said that we should find the money, but don’t tax me. Tax the guy behind the tree.
Unfortunately, it does not work that way. I prefer a balanced approach and do not favor the concept to redirecting scarce revenues from the general fund to transportation. This has not been done in the past and would set a bad precedent. While local governments rely on property taxes, we have not utilized the state’s general funds for transportation. Transportation has always been funded by fuels taxes, registration fees and federal transportation funds (also fuel taxes). No matter how much one drives, we all have the benefits of the transportation system. Farm products, manufactured goods and all retail products are moved on the roads and bridges. People get to and from work, shopping and recreation on the roads.
If we can come to a consensus and address this challenge, I hope we will be judged by Aristotle’s as having made a noble effort, as he concluded the previous quote with the following comment: “Hence it is that such excellence is rare, praiseworthy and noble.”