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Saturday, Jun 23, 2018
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Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: Gas tax hike never had a chance

Now that a two-commissioner minority has heroically pierced the West Pasco Government Center’s plans to gouge us at the pump, one thing becomes abundantly clear.

A hike in the gas tax, not even a single red cent, never had a chance.

I mean, commissioners needed four votes to make any increase happen, and three (you will want to be reminded who they are: Ted Schrader, Pat Mulieri, Kathryn Starkey) was all they ever had. Jack Mariano — who, as burgermeister of SunWest Harbourtowne, is sensitive to impediments to long-range motoring — always was a no, leaving Henry Wilson as the swing vote. (Insert winking emoticon here.)

But anyone who heard Wilson’s presentation on budgeting to Pasco’s Republican Executive Committee last month knew where he stood, and it wasn’t with the Friends of Higher Energy Prices. In other words, Wilson meant it — he really, really meant it — when he said something extraordinary would need to happen for him to support juicing the gas tax.

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Even Mulieri and Starkey’s sweet talk of compromise couldn’t woo him. Double-teaming him like a sales team offering lease options on a new car — How about three pennies for 10 years? Two pennies for five years? — Wilson’s position proved non-negotiable. After Mark Zuckerberg failed to litter Pasco with IPO-priced shares of Facebook, what choice did he have?

Besides, when Wilson won election in 2010, the only memorable plank in his campaign platform was a commitment to carry out the expressed wishes of his constituents. Such a promise could prove problematic when the public is narrowly split on an issue, or when it sends conflicting messages, but neither circumstance emerged here.

By all accounts, Pasco’s citizenry hated the gas tax hike. Tuesday night’s final public comment merely struck the spark that blew the whole thing up, with this instructive detail. Regular folks, never mind the expensive risk to their shocks and struts posed by unattended potholes, overwhelmingly denounced it as the rock python that would crush their finances; developers eager to pave and their attorneys, whose billable hours would be supported by fresh taxes, urged its passage.

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Facing the electorate again in just 14 months, Wilson couldn’t have been eager to change that winner of a slogan to, “He listens to you ... except when he doesn’t.” Nope. Wilson was never voting to hike the gas tax. He didn’t even have to hear the argument about how transportation-dependent businesses would surely pass along the cost of the tax, which you can bet for delivery services, plumbers, handymen, lawn maintenance crews and so on is far more than the advertised buck-and-a-quarter a week.

Sort of makes you wonder what the summer-long slow waltz around the gas tax was about in the first place.

If we surrendered to cynicism, we’d suspect a misdirection play: Get us so focused on the possibility of paying an extra nickle a gallon that we’d miss the action on the back side — a 7.8-percent leap in the millage rate — and then, when the gas tax failed, we’d be grateful commissioners had settled for whacking only property owners, and then only a little bit.

As if landlords and owners of commercial buildings don’t play the trickle-down game themselves.

Yep. Turns out there’s another rock python lurking in the weeds. Machetes ready, taxed-enough-already crowd?

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