Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Primaries and the Gas Tax

I have always loved politics. This is clearly inherited from my father. Bart didn't seem to get the bug. Mom and John each agree to play the game when it's necessary. But Dad and I? We love it.

I can't help but get excited when each political season rolls around. I know, it seems like there isn't a season that isn't political these days. And I can get frustrated with the non-stop media spiels when it seems like they are just "making" news for the heck of making news. However, now that we are into the primaries, and North Carolina's is gearing up in two weeks, I'm ready to jump in. If there's a candidate speaking at one of my meetings, I'll be there. If there's a party or a rally to attend, I'll most likely drag John along. If there's a political sticker or button to wear, it's mine. I even vote on election day, just so that I can wear my "I Voted" sticker all day long, instead of voting ahead of time and feeling silly wearing my sticker all alone.

That being said, I've done some research on my MANY options for every office that can be elected in Iredell County. Unfortunately, in North Carolina, you must be affiliated with a party in order to participate in the primaries. This really goes against my Gen Y perspective to vote for the person--the candidate with the good ideas--rather than the letter attached to someone's name. However, this frustration is somewhat lessened by the knowledge that over 85% of Iredell County is Republican. You would think that would limit your options, but when there are 8 Republicans (and often no Democratic primaries at all) to choose from in any given race, it seems as though the choices are fairly broad (relatively speaking).

I specifically have spent some time researching my local NC senate and house candidates. It's these people who most impact the state funding streams for highway construction. While I am not going to publicly endorse or denounce any individual, I would like to share what was said in a lunch meeting that I attended today:

This candidate has been privy to the Republican caucus discussions in Raleigh (doesn't give much away, does it? Ha!) In this meeting of business people in the Statesville area, this person announced that it was the Republican caucus' primary goal to "attack the gas tax" during this session. This person also claimed that it was the gas tax that was hurting the economy, making it harder for people in the state of North Carolina to make ends meet, and that as long as the projects that he/she supported weren't cut, there should be no problem with decreasing our already inadequate tax. Unfortunately, or fortunately, this person is very charismatic, seems to have huge support, and can make these broad reaching statements without much push-back from the group that was assembled. This person, many people would say, is that shoe-in for the Republican nomination for the seat he/she is running for...

In light of this, please let me share some actual FACTS with you:

  1. Capping the gas tax at the levels proposed will save the average North Carolina driver $13.00-$30.00 PER YEAR. This is about $1.00-$2.50 PER MONTH. I'm not so sure that $1.00/month is causing any particular individual in the state heartburn.
  2. Capping the gas tax at the levels proposed will cut the highway construction budget by almost $100 million this year alone. The highway fund is currently under-funded, with existing gas tax revenues. Cutting it an additional $100 million could be devastating. 
  3. The cut in revenues could put thousands of construction jobs at risk. Aren't all politicians claiming that job creation is the number one priority of their campaigns? How does saving drivers $0.25 per week justify adding to the unemployment levels of our state? 
I started this post by saying that I love politics, and I truly do. This season, and every season, how each political candidate plans to impact highway funding is of utmost importance when I decide how to vote. I hope that you also care about your state's roads and general infrastructure. But more importantly, I hope that you look at what is most important to you and research the candidates' opinions on those topics. Too many people go to the polls with no idea what the person they vote for believes or truly supports.

I'll leave you with a quote from Republican NC Senator Bill Rabon when cutting the gas tax was voted on (and defeated) last session: "I'm not going to be the one to say, 'Hey, I'm the guy who saved you $23 on gasoline taxes, and I'm really sorry about the school bus that your kid was on that fell through the bridge that we didn't repair.'"

I hope we have enough political will and common sense to keep this perspective as the dominant one in the NC legislature. NC voters are the ones who need to guarantee that we do, and not fall for good-looking charisma or hyperbole...otherwise, what seems like an overstated assessment by Senator Rabon could be our reality.