Couldn't help noticing all the recent discussion about how federal and state highway taxes aren't keeping up with the cost of maintaining and building our highways. That the situation has been turning into a crisis is getting obvious, with studies noting that the gas tax now buys only about half the concrete, steel and other materials that it did 20 years ago. The problem is that the gasoline tax is set at cents per gallon, and with the steady increases in gasoline prices over the years, the rate, or percentage, of the gas tax has been moving steadily downward. Meanwhile all other costs associated with maintaining the roads with the money raised by the gas tax have been going up.
The situation at the state level is much the same, with South Dakota's gas tax of 22 cents a gallon having been in place since 1999. Other taxes, which are set at a percentage of sales, automatically increase with inflation, generally keeping up with the rising costs of government services, so on this front, at least, they aren't much of an issue. But the unique situation with gas taxes has caught Governor Daugaard's attention, so much so that a few weeks back he said he'd consider raising gas taxes in order to restore the purchasing power those taxes had when they were last set 15 years ago. Daugaard has noted that this is consistent with his promise not to raise taxes, saying that all he's considering is getting those taxes in line with inflation.
I think this is kind of a rhetorical dance myself, as a tax increase is a tax increase is a tax increase--regardless of its reason for being. I don't particularly fault the Governor for seeking to restore the funds that have been lost to inflation this way. Fact is, roads are such a vital aspect of government services that they need to be funded to whatever level necessary in order to keep them maintained. No doubt the Governor and his aides, along with the legislature's people, will look for every means possible to get highway funding where it needs to be, short of raising gas taxes. But if that's the only option, I believe it's a bullet we have to bite.
My beef about all this isn't the gas tax, per se. I'm just dismayed by the notion that cost-of-living increases need to be considered when pencilling in the price of government services but are to be ignored when it comes considering raises in the minimum wage. If Daugaard believes that jacking up gas taxes doesn't amount to a tax increase, just a restoration of buying power, then shouldn't that same principle be applied to minimum wages? Applying the Governor's own reasoning, raising minimum wages isn't the same as increasing them, it's just a matter of restoring their buying power. Yet Daugaard has effectively ignored this logic and withheld his support for the cost-of-living increase (with its built-in adjustment for inflation) that will appear on November's ballot.
It all looks to me like Daugaard believes state government should consider getting a cost-of-living increase but working people shouldn't. I don't like this. It's illogical. It's inconsistent--and it comes across as institutionalized cognitive dissonance.