Both ends of the political spectrum attacking the GOOD part of Haley’s tax-swap plan

This does not bode well for responsible policy-making in South Carolina. (Now, if there’s an “Understatement of the Year” contest somewhere, and there’s a cash prize, I want one of y’all to enter that statement for me, on account of the fact that I’m too modest to do it myself. If there’s more than one such contest, enter it in the one with the biggest cash prize. I mean, duh.)

I had an oh-so-brief, and oh-so-ill-founded, moment of optimism last week when I read this:

Competing state roads-funding plans from the GOP-controlled S.C. House and Republican Gov. Nikki Haley appear to be on a collision course unless a compromise can be reached by next week….

Because I thought, for that brief second, contrary to all past experience, that maybe it means they’re willing to raise the gas tax without a much-bigger cut in the income tax that would more than wipe out any overall advantage to the gas tax.

Silly me. I have these Panglossian moments from time to time, but they pass quickly enough when I run head-on into reality. This particular fit was fully over by the time I was done reading this bit:

Some GOP lawmakers, wary of opposition to Haley’s plan by the limited government Americans for Prosperity group, are hesitant to back a direct gas-tax increase….

Because, you know, that’s what’s important: Slavish devotion to the agendas of out-of-state groups that don’t give a tinker’s dam about South Carolina, rather than whether our state’s needs are attended to.

So basically, the problem with Haley’s “roads” plan isn’t the much-greater tax cut that has nothing to do with paying for roads. The problem, for our solons, is the very modest part that would benefit roads.

But surely, surely, there are some lawmakers who are neither automatons for Washington interest groups nor sensible folks who fear meeting such automatons in a primary.

Which is to say, there still ARE some Democrats in the Legislature, right? I mean, they’re too few to be effective or anything, but at least they can stand up for a needed, sensible tax increase when no one else will, just so somebody is standing up for wise policy. Right?

Wrong. Here’s what the Democrats are saying:

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – Democratic legislators say Gov. Nikki Haley’s plan to cut income taxes by $9 billion over the next decade is nothing but a tax hike for more than a million South Carolinians….

Haley announced last month she’s willing to support increasing the gas tax by 10 cents over three years to pay for road and bridge work, but only if legislators cut income taxes by 2 percentage points over 10 years….

The office’s economic advisers project that 1.1 million people who file income tax returns – or 46 percent of filers – would see no benefit because they would pay no personal income taxes anyway, due to previous cuts to the bottom brackets.

Democrats note those taxpayers would, however, pay the gas increase.

“One million people will only see a tax increase,” said Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia….

So basically, no one is articulating the case for what actually ought to happen. Which is that we should increase the tax (the ridiculously low tax) that already exists specifically for the purpose of paying for roads, since we don’t have enough money to fix and build roads. We can’t even get folks to stand up for it at a moment when it would cost so little politically, because gasoline prices are so low that no one would notice the increase.

Welcome to the State House.

30 thoughts on “Both ends of the political spectrum attacking the GOOD part of Haley’s tax-swap plan

  1. Doug Ross

    It’s up to you and people of similar beliefs who have to make the case to the lawmakers that this is good policy. If it’s such a no-brainer, why is it so difficult to convince them otherwise? Maybe because they value their office more than they do doing what’s right? Gee, what could we do to stop that? Term limits maybe? Naw… that would cause us to lose all these experienced politicians who are so vital to the success of our great state.

    And where’s your man Vincent to lead the charge? Would he have been pushing hard for the gas tax increase as governor? If so, what’s stopping him from pushing hard now? Hmmm… too busy with taking down the flag, I suppose.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          If this trend continues, I may have to nominate the governor for some sort of Profile in Courage award for even HAVING a “good part” in her plan…

          Which is pathetic, people. Just pathetic…

  2. M.Prince

    “Democratic legislators say Gov. Nikki Haley’s plan to cut income taxes by $9 billion over the next decade is nothing but a tax hike for more than a million South Carolinians….”

    What’s wrong with Democrats pointing to this truth in the Haley plan? How does it differ from Brad Warthen calling the same plan a “tax cut plan”? (Jan. 26th post) One points to one side of the equation and calls it a “tax hike” while the other points to the other side and calls it a “tax cut”. Seems like two sides of the same coin to me.

    1. Doug Ross

      The two plans shouldn’t be linked. People who drive cars should pay for roads. It’s a tax hike on everyone who drives a car.

      Tax cuts go to people who pay taxes. Those dollars go back into the economy. They don’t disappear. Those extra dollars pay for discretionary expenses that help create jobs for those who don’t pay taxes.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Because the tax HIKE that Democrats are complaining about is the GOOD part of the plan. If you want more money for roads, of COURSE you raise the gasoline tax…

      1. M.Prince

        Well, I guess each of us can read the press release however we like. I certainly read it differently than you did. To me it was primarily a critique of the imbalance in the Haley plan, which effectively shifts taxes from the the better off to the less well off. It’s a critique, I should point out, that you yourself have voiced from time to time in complaining about this state’s excessive dependence on sales taxes and other imbalanced forms of regressive taxation. Criticizing the Dems in the way you do, in particular by drawing parallels with Rep fear of Americans for Prosperity, seems to me just an example of the practice of drawing false comparisons that some journalists engage in — in other words, attempting to spread blame equally when it is not shared equally.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Oh, I think they’re making a perfectly good point about the stupidity of the income tax cut.

          But that’s not what they’re saying. Their hashtag, and therefore their emphasis, is #HaleyTaxHike, not #HaleyTaxCutforRich or something.

          They’re stooping to reflexive, lowest-common-denominator resentment of tax increases, rather than saying what they should, which is this: “We will all benefit, economically and in terms of greater personal safety, from better roads. And we have a fair way of paying for that — the gasoline tax, which is a way of taxing those who actually USE the roads. So we applaud the governor’s advocacy for raising that tax, which is among the lowest in the country. But we strongly condemn her holding that sensible move hostage to an unwarranted tax cut that will only benefit SOME South Carolinians, and which will starve already underfunded agencies — such as DSS — of needed revenues. There is a case for the gas tax increase. There is no case for the income tax cut.”

          1. M.Prince

            Two people, two different perspectives.
            But I don’t make determinations based on hashtags.
            I don’t twit and never intend to.

          2. M.Prince

            Moreover, by going to the AP linked article rather than relying on your excerpt from it, let alone a hashtag, lends support to my interpretation of the Dems’ position.

          3. Brad Warthen Post author

            The choice of a hashtag (at least, this type of hashtag) is a glaring statement of what one chooses to emphasize. Kind of like a bumper-sticker slogan.

            One doesn’t have to do Twitter (although frankly, that’s where I saw the picture) to note that at their press conference, that hashtag was what the Dems chose to emblazon on the lectern. There is no question at all that that is the one concept they wanted people to come away from their presser with.

            And you shouldn’t look down at Twitter. Properly used, it’s not about the 140 characters, any more than a long-form article in The New Yorker is about the headline, or a book is about its title.

            The Tweet is your notification, the thing that takes you to the richer, deeper content — much of which I would miss without Twitter.

            Twitter is to me what television is to too many people — my first point of contact with news and opinions…

            1. M.Prince

              “richer, deeper content”
              Yeah, right. I think most folks use Twitter to a) twit themselves or b) access content with about as little actual content as your average twit.

              I just find it incongruous (already too many syllables for a good twit) that a self-described “Victorian Gent” who abhors bumper-sticker aphorisms would embrace a format like Twitter. Long-form generally trumps short-form and certainly buries twitting.

              In some cases form IS content. And I think Twitter is one of those cases.

        2. Michael Rodgers

          Yeah, HaleyTaxHike — hashtag and website — sounds like “a critique of the imbalance” to most South Carolinians. And this totally honest and notatall posturing critique also solves the roads problem by raising what the SC House Dems call our “embarrassingly low gas tax.” Oh, wait, no, the Dems are complaining that Haley wants to raise our “embarrassingly law gas tax.” I guess I’m the one who’s embarrassed.

  3. Phillip

    I noticed a big online ad on the State’s website touting Haley’s plan, so I clicked on it…It’s an advocacy piece encouraging us to contact our legislators, encourage support for the plan, etc. But what I don’t understand is the ad says it was paid for by “Nikki Haley For Governor.” Isn’t the election over, and isn’t she limited to two terms? How can there still be an entity called “Nikki Haley for Governor” buying up ad time?

  4. Mark Stewart

    If you threw in elimination of Act 388 this would be a good way of dealing with all three legs of the stool.

    A higher gas tax is good. So is a lower income tax rate. But neither makes much sense as long as 388 stands.

    We need to tax assets, incomes and expenses to create a “fair” system that sees everyone paying into our shared infrastructure. There is clearly a benefit to changing the three legs of a tax stool to four by realistically taxing uses as well (such as the gas tax). Moving too far to protect any one of those payor groups is just bad public policy. Both sides seem to want that now, however. I’d say wake up people, but I know they all just want to keep grinding the same old axes over and over again.

    1. Doug Ross

      “We need to tax assets, incomes and expenses to create a “fair” system that sees everyone paying into our shared infrastructure. ”

      “Need” is a strong word. There are plenty of states that don’t “need” to do all three. And I’m glad you put the term fair in quotes because there is no such thing as fair when it comes to taxes. We need a tax system that is based on the minimum revenue required to do the things a government should do. Paying for anything beyond that is not “fair”.

  5. Mark Stewart

    I don’t just want the state to do the minimum, Doug. I want government to be reasonably efficient and responsive, and I also want it to collectively invest our tax dollars into the sorts of things which will over decades advance our society. That’s civic investment.

    1. Doug Ross

      Why should the government do more than it is constitutionally required to do?

      Also, we need to stop using the three legged stool analogy. It’s really a four legged table – user fees and licenses are a significant revenue source. Don’t get me started on business licenses. I pay $400 a year to Richland County for a business license even though I don’t work in South Carolina.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Because a constitution can’t possibly anticipate every future contingency. Which is why constitutions empower legislators to pass laws.

        A government that could only do what was specifically set out in its constitution probably wouldn’t last long…

        1. Mark Stewart

          Doug is right, this fourth tax class has been bumped up in significance as legislators abdicate their responsibilities to manage the other three revenue types.

          Nuisance fees shouldn’t be a foundation of government, but there you have it. They are now – unfortunately.

  6. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, y’all… I’m told that maybe, just maybe I’m being too pessimistic here. That would be awesome, if I could see any confirmation of the fact.

    More on that as I know more…

  7. bud

    Brad you are just so utterly obsessed with balancing every, single issue by slamming both sides equally that you just completely miss the point the Dems are making. That’s journalistic malpractice. The Dems make the perfectly valid point that Haley’s plan favors the wealthy. It’s no more complicated than that. But in your unbridled zeal to paint every issue with the partisanship brush you gloss over that very important point.

    1. Michael Rodgers

      But the SC Dems didn’t make the totally valid point that Haley’s plan favors the wealthy. You can find that point if you look for it (bravo, way to go!) but it’s not the focus; #HaleyTaxHike is the focus. The SC Dems made the totally stupid and asinine and hypocritical point of criticizing Haley’s plan for raising what they elsewhere call the “embarrassingly low” gas tax and thus give lie to their promise to go for “all of the above.”

      This isn’t false equivalence. Haley’s plan is a hanging curve that should be hit out of the park because her plan is awful, as Brad previously — and thoroughly — described. The SC Dems swung so badly at the pitch as to be just ridiculously stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid. They fell down and threw the bat and it hit me in the face and now I need stitches. They deserve this criticism.

    2. Mark Stewart

      And it is a valid position that a gas tax recoups from the users, proportional with their use. This isn’t a nuisance tax, it is a use tax. Tolls are more a nuisance tax, except when they are designed to even out peak period travel.

      After thinking about all this, I would favor including auto sales (and commercial vehicles) in the sales tax structure, with no cap, rather than raising the gas tax. And I would specifically exclude this vehicle sales tax from the local municipality surcharges…

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