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As Long as We Remember...

August 23, 2007

Doctrinaire Consequences

Tony Soltero

About a year ago or so, the Minnesota legislature drafted a budget bill that, among other things, included a gas tax to be used for infrastructure investment. The bill easily passed the state's legislature and went to Republican Gov. Tom Pawlenty for his signature.

Governor Pawlenty vetoed it. He objected to the gas tax increase, and said about the legislators, "How dumb can they be?"

And now, several deaths and a collapsed bridge later, the governor is signaling that yes, perhaps he might consider funding infrastructure improvements after all, even if they involve the T-word.

Now, it is not my intention to blame Minnesota's governor for the bridge disaster. The culprit here is not Governor Pawlenty specifically. The culprit here is the maniacal, irrational obsession the Republican Party has with taxes - to the point where something as basic as bridge maintenance went neglected and underfunded because acting upon it would have cost a little money. Governor Pawlenty is simply one out of many Republicans who harbors this attitude.

And now a dozen Minnesota citizens have paid the ultimate price for this "governing" philosophy, not to mention the thousands of Minneapolis-St. Paul commuters whose lives have just been made far more difficult, as well as the lost economic activity that results from sitting in traffic.

Heck of a way to save money, eh?

As our parents and teachers tell us when we're young, stuff costs money. If you want that comic book, you need to give a quarter to the cashier. You want to borrow your father's Beamer? Fill it up first. We don't get anything for free. Most of us learn that by the second grade.

But way too many Republicans have forgotten that childhood lesson - if they ever learned it in the first place. To listen to many Republicans in positions of power, of course we can continue this Iraq occupation - and keep our infrastructure in good shape - and fully equip our schools and protect ourselves from natural disasters and balance the nation's budget while at the same time cutting taxes to the bone!

Sure we can have all the wonderful trappings of life in a wealthy, developed country without having to pay for them!

It sounds wonderful in principle. Until reality bites back. And then, somehow, the Republican credo of drowning government in a bathtub just doesn't sound quite so appealing - as was evidenced, for example, by the virulent public reaction to Frederick City Republicans' attempts to slice the law-enforcement budget.

This is something we need to keep in mind as our own budget battles begin to take shape statewide in Maryland. As we all know, Gov. Martin O'Malley inherited a gaping structural deficit from the previous administration. Unlike his predecessor, though, Governor O'Malley's going to stare it down and deal with it. Kicking the can is no longer an option.

But to do this, he's going to have to make some tough choices, and he's going to have to make some unpopular moves. And some of these unpopular moves will probably involve some tax increases.

Whatever the governor decides to do, though, I'm sure it'll be infinitely preferable to having bridges plunge into the water. I'm sure all but the most hardcore doctrinaire rightwingers - a small minority in our state - would agree with that.

Before I let this go, though, I need to point out that I was a little unfair to Tom Pawlenty. He did, at one point, agree to a tax increase in Minnesota. A sales tax! But what pressing state needs could have driven him to violate Republican orthodoxy in such a manner?

The answer and football stadiums.

Ah, Republican priorities.

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