You remember Grover Norquist, don’t you: He’s the guy who has made sure Republican officeholders stick to the party’s anti-tax line for more than 20 years. Now his group—Americans for Tax Reform—is attacking Gov. Tom Corbett. Really! Why? Because Corbett wants to lift the cap on the state’s gasoline tax in order to pay for fixes to the highway system.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: this proposal is a tax increase. Corbett’s proposal would more than double the state tax on gasoline sold at the wholesale level. Corbett’s proposal also ignores the basic laws of economics. Corporations don’t pay taxes, people do. In the case of Corbett’s proposal, it will lead to higher fuel prices for Pennsylvanians at the pump.
In announcing his plan yesterday, Gov. Corbett stated that it is “time for oil and gas companies to pay their fair share.” Corbett’s statement betrays a lack of understanding about who it is that owns oil companies. Less than 2 percent of oil and natural gas industry shares are owned by corporate management. The rest are owned by tens of tens of millions of middle-class Americans through their retirement investments in 401(k)’s, IRAs, pensions and other vehicles.
For what it’s worth, gasoline taxes have always been one of the prime funding sources for highway improvements because lawmakers saw it as a kind of user fee—if you’re buying gasoline, you’re probably driving around in a car or truck, which means you’re probably using the highways. A gasoline tax increase, then, is still a tax increase, but it’s a tax increase that goes directly to pay for services the gasoline buyer is already using.
ATR concludes by saying Pennsylvania can improve highway funding within the current budget. It offers no solutions about what to cut to make room for those costs, though. Which makes you think ATR doesn’t even take its own recommendations very seriously.