Down in Concord

“Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” — Frederic Bastiat

Bastiat’s maxim was on display at the regional public hearing in Claremont last Monday (March 18). With a few exceptions, the participants were saying, “Please government, take money from everyone else so that my favorite program might live.” Sooner or later, they might understand another Bastiat quote: “People are beginning to realize that the apparatus of government is costly. But what they do not know is that the burden falls inevitably on them.”

At the hearing, I spoke against the new gas tax. I did not speak well, but apparently people did understand that I oppose the massive increase in the gas tax because the existing highway funds would be enough if even 83%, not to mention 100%, of the highway funds were dedicated to roads and bridges instead of having a full one-third diverted to things that have nothing to do with building and maintaining our road system.

The House began the year with 604 bills. To date, 234 have been killed, 207 were passed and will go to the Senate, 127 were retained in committees for more work in the Spring and Fall. The House will vote on 32 bills next week. The three big budget bills and a related resolution are still being drafted. The committees will make their budget recommendations by Thursday next week for floor action on April 4.

Last week the House met in session on both Wednesday and Thursday to act on 69 bills. It killed some good bills and some bad bills, passed some good bills and some bad bills. Most bills are fairly innocuous and of little interest to most people. There were three bills (at least) that many people might find interesting. The House killed HB 665, a casino gambling bill, by a bipartisan 4-1 vote. It passed HB 573, medical marijuana, by a similar bipartisan vote. By a smaller, but still bipartisan, 3-2 margin, the House passed HB 621, making possession of one-quarter ounce or less of marijuana a violation instead of a misdemeanor.

Next week the House will vote on 32 bills. Many of these bills went to a first committee, then passed the House, and were referred to a second committee. Having passed the House once already, they likely will pass the House when they come back for a second vote.

One bill that no doubt will be debated is HB 135, requiring would-be victims to try to retreat from an assailant before they are allowed to use a weapon to defend themselves, their families, or their community. There have been many instances of an armed civilian stopping a gun massacre before it became a massacre. If they had retreated to save themselves, those incidents would have turned into full-blown massacres. E.g. a woman in church killed a shooter who was carrying hundreds of rounds of ammo. Under HB 135, she would have had to escape to safety instead of using her handgun to save the lives of dozens of church-goers.

Another bill to be debated is HB 617, the largest tax increase in state history. Republicans will oppose it as unnecessary; we should just stop diverting $80 million each year away from the department of Transportation (DOT). Before the House takes even more money from struggling taxpayers it should ensure that the existing gas tax is used almost entirely for roads and bridges and not spent on agencies that have nothing to do with building and fixing our highways.

Proponents of this massive tax hike claim that we need it to fix our “crumbling” infrastructure. But HB 617 won’t repair a single bridge nor pave a single mile of road. It does not spend a dime on roads and bridges. It is a taxing bill, not a spending bill. With their arguments they are trying to tie together taxes and spending but the two are separate. The legislature could spend the exact same amount on roads and bridges with or without HB 617. For instance, they could allocate 100% of the highway fund to DOT, and that would actually put more money into DOT than the new gas tax would.

Conversely, the legislature could raise this new tax, and still not spend a dime extra on roads and bridges. Even if they keep their promise to put all the new money into roads and bridges, they could divert all the old money into state police and courts, welcome centers, etc.

Even if people favor the new spending, that does not mean we should accept the new taxes. If roads and highways are high priority, that means that something else must be lower priority. Let them cut lower priority spending – e.g. send less money to rich faculty and administrators in the university system.

The new tax lets them get away without making the hard choices as to which items are higher/lower priority. The net effect of a new tax will be more money available for low priority items.

And finally, the House Finance Committee will hold a budget briefing on the two big budget bills. I don’t want to suggest that the budget will be a joke but the briefing is on Monday, April 1st.

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