Winning the battle but losing the war. Taxpayers lose again.

20 Aug

Bankrupting the TTF is a Pyrrhic victory

“A Pyrrhic victory is a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat. Someone who wins a Pyrrhic victory has been victorious in some way. However, the heavy toll negates any sense of achievement or profit.  The phrase Pyrrhic victory is named after king Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose army suffered irreplaceable casualties in defeating the Romans at Heraclea in 280 BC and Asculum in 279 BC during the Pyrrhic War.”  Pyrrhus said of his victory at Heraclea, “one more such victory and I will be utterly undone.”

It is beginning to look as if elements of the GOP, the talk radio wing of the populist movement, and the petroleum industry (including AFP) have got their way so that in 16 short months we will see an increase in the tax on gasoline without any accompanying tax cuts.  The phase out of the Estate Tax — long a conservative dream, long a priority of groups like AFP — which was so close, will be gone, perhaps for a decade or two or forever.

Economists will continue to advise people to take their money and flee New Jersey upon reaching retirement age — so the flight of wealth, which could have been checked by the elimination of the tax on retirement income, will continue unabated.  Instead of making their donations to New Jersey charities, those donations will go to charities in states like Florida and North Carolina.

Early in 2018, the Transportation Trust Fund will finally be funded — but low income working people and commuters and seniors and military veterans will not get their tax cuts.  They will be off the table — and if they find their way back into legislation, the Republicans will have nothing to do with it.  It will be a gift, in whole, from the Democrats.

The crisis brought by willfully bankrupting the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) is already causing county and local governments to consider raising property taxes to cover the shortfall in road and bridge repair funding that had been provided by the TTF.  The bill will come due next year — when the whole Legislature and the Governor’s office is up before the voters.  If a 23 cents per gallon increase in the tax on gasoline had been passed in June, the decline in the retail price per gallon since would have made up for that 23 cents and more.  The increase in property taxes brought on by the bankruptcy of the TTF will not be so painless.

But still, there are some in the GOP who look on the “no gas tax” message as the gimmick they need to at least hang on to what they have in the Legislature.  It is easy to chant, so that even the very stupid can understand it.  It is to be the GOP version of “Black Lives Matter” — and is meant to be just as angry and misdirected and violent.  For hatred of “the police”, substitute “Trenton” and you have it in a nutshell (or case).

In fact, what the NJGOP needs are well-thought-out, adult, fully-fledged policies — policies that are informed by principles.  Once you have these, any old advertising executive can figure old how to message it, package it, sell it.  The problem with the NJGOP is that they have nothing to sell.  So it ends up selling mistrust, anger, and even hate.  That’s not a product to be proud of.

The conservative movement has found itself here before.  In the 1970’s there were two competing brands — the angry, emotional, populist “conservatism” of George Wallace (a Southern Democrat); and the optimistic, ideas-driven, ideological conservatism of Ronald Reagan (a California Republican).  Happily Reagan’s ideas won out over Wallace’s anger.  Today, it sometimes seems like it’s anger on steroids.

The dearth of principle is such and the anger so keen that there are those out there who have turned a rather pedestrian decision about how to fund road and bridge maintenance (a users’ tax on gasoline vs. property taxes vs. the general fund and so on) into a question as serious as “when does life begin”  or “does the state have the right to impose the death penalty”?  These are roads we are talking about — there’s nothing metaphysical about a road — presumably we all agree that we need roads and we assume there’s nobody out there who thinks they get built and maintained for free by the Keebler elves.

But the hatred — both fringe and corporate — has been astounding.  President Reagan himself believed in users’ taxes as a fair form of taxation and raised the tax on gasoline as the fairest way to fund transportation projects.  But that hasn’t stopped fringe folk like tea partier Mark Quick and NJ101.5’s Bill Spadea from cranking up the hate.  They make it sound like a debate over transubstantiation.

The world is going to hell and these people are making the means to fund road and bridge maintenance an article of faith.  How intellectually bankrupt must they be?

America is under an intense and sustained threat from abroad and elements of that threat are possibly slipping undetected through our borders.  Our economy has turned grey — with unemployment and underemployment, foreclosure and poverty, as its major features.  Our culture is being frog-marched in a direction chosen, not at the ballot box, not by the people, but by elites in (of all things) the entertainment industry and their corporate and judicial fellow-travelers.  Nothing democratic about it.  In the history of this Republic, have people of faith ever been less fashionable and more under threat?

Instead of standing up for freedom of conscience, what calls itself “Republican” now, what calls itself “conservative”, the best they can muster is an appeal to a gimme.  The cost per gallon hasn’t kept up with inflation, hasn’t gone up in 28 years, states like Pennsylvania pay over 50 cents a gallon for their roads while we pay just 14 1/2 cents, but I don’t care I want mine and I want it cheap, and I don’t care if my daughter has to shower with a sex offender or if my church is closed down because its practice offends the ruling fashion.  I want cheap gas!

Well, for the next 16 months, you will.  While every other problem ignored gets worse.  This is what we are now.



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