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It’s fun to poke fun at the tribalism of politics.
Comedians take to the street to see whether they can get supporters of Donald Trump to advocate for Democratic priorities, under the guise that they are really Trump’s ideas. Others “flip the script” and get left-leaning passers by to support Republican policies under a similar feint.
Then you get to the silliness of real life, where the parties swap their political talking points.
The current example is the gas tax. At the federal level, it was last raised in 1993. At the start of Bill Clinton’s presidency. In Maine, during Gov. Angus King’s tenure, our state-level fuel tax was indexed to inflation.
Republicans decried it as an abdication of Augusta’s responsibility to vote on tax increases, instead hiding behind an automatic statutory pilot. Further, they described it as a tax on the less wealthy and rural Maine; trucks and older vehicles are often less fuel efficient, yet highly necessary for residents in many parts of our state.
So, in 2011, when the GOP won unified leadership in the Legislature and Blaine House, they got rid of the gas tax indexing. To the chagrin of Democrats. And the Bangor Daily News editorial board.
Now, Washington — with Sen. Susan Collins in the vanguard — is poised to pass a new, trillion-dollar infrastructure bill. So how can we pay for it?
“Obamacare” was modeled after “Romneycare,” Massachusetts’ universal coverage experiment implemented by GOP then-governor, now-Sen. Mitt Romney.
Congressional Democrats attacked the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017” on the basis that it would be devastating to our national debt. Republicans ignored these criticisms. Now, Democrats are preparing a $3.5 trillion partisan bill to follow the $1 trillion infrastructure proposal. Republicans argue this profligate spending will be ruinous, further ballooning our unsustainable debt loan.
Democrats will ignore these criticisms.
This perpetual jockeying for political position is starting to wear thin. At some point, politicians — and the parties — will need to clearly state where they stand on particular issues, with a measure of consistency, even if it seems unpopular.
Start with the gas tax. Having the users of roads pay for their development and upkeep makes a lot of sense. However, it can have a regressive effect; as a rule, 2015 F-150 burns more gas than a 2021 BMW (to say nothing of a Tesla).
So what do we do? Well, there is a relationship between fuel burned and miles travelled. People also generally need to report their odometer when they register their car. Making some type of movement on the gas tax probably makes sense, while imposing some sort of mileage fee for partially or fully electric vehicles could help equalize impacts across the economic spectrum.
This isn’t a partisan issue. That is why both Democrats and Republicans have supported the idea in the recent past, even if they didn’t perfectly align in time.
As Washington looks at ways to reduce the debt impact of their upcoming spending bills, they should take an honest look at where there are areas of agreement. Collins’ efforts on the infrastructure bill shows that not every issue needs to be a tribal, partisan fight.
In Maine, former GOP Chairman and current state Sen. Rick Bennett has made common cause with Democrats against the CMP corridor. Where they agree, they work together. Where Bennett disagrees, he works against them.
It may not be as funny as a silly sidewalk interview, but consistency can get a lot more done.