What does “Conservative” Mean When We Talk About Tennessee’s Gas Tax Issue?


I can’t help but return to this quote time and again as I put together thoughts on conservative principles of government:

To establish a government based on the consent of the governed, as the Declaration of Independence makes clear, they gave up only that portion of their rights necessary to create a limited government of the kind needed to secure all of their rights. The Founders then structured that government so that it could not jeopardize the liberty that flowed from natural rights. Even though this liberty is inherent, it is not guaranteed… Over the lifespan of our great country, many occasions have arisen that required this liberty, and the form of government that ensures it, to be defended if it was to survive. Justice Clarence Thomas

The Declaration of Independence declares our right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The Preamble to our U.S. Constitution states one of its purposes is promoting “the general welfare.” Interestingly, someone in a public forum once tried to pin that phrase to welfare in the sense of government providing things for people, rather than it meaning a general sense of wellbeing for every citizen.

These documents are essential, and each of them gives principles before fleshing out the manner in which those principles would be enacted. Whatever your principles are, you will act on those principles. And if the principles you profess are not backed up by your actions, then you must not actually believe the words that you are speaking.

In the gas tax increase debate that has been raging on in Tennessee, there is unanimous consent that our transportation infrastructure must be maintained to a high degree without incurring new debt. The two sides of the debate at this time each have their own merits, but there is a fundamental problem with one of those sides- the side that believes in our current state, it is perfectly fine to increase taxes.

We all agree to give up a portion of our rights necessary to create a limited government. Paying taxes is how you and I give up a portion of our pursuit of happiness in order to fund certain government functions that are declared necessary in the Constitution. Roads are among them as a matter of insuring the general welfare.. We expect our portion of a declared natural right to be used wisely and appropriately, and that any additional portion of our rights the government would seek to take would be well justified.

Such is not the case with the gas tax increase.

Many alternatives to raising taxes have been offered. They were all declined.
The government overtaxes the citizens to the tune of almost a billion dollars per year. But this is sacred money, not to be spent on roads, in the eyes of many in the statehouse.

The Senate approved an amended bill that lowers the amount of the tax increase, phases the increase in over the next 3 years, and cuts other taxes deeper than originally proposed. Whereas the Governor’s original IMPROVE Act was billed as “revenue neutral,” This amended bill is touted as “more-than-revenue-neutral,” because the cuts purportedly outweigh the increase on the gas tax.

Naturally, any reasonable person should get right in line behind this plan. But there is a problem. Government and her politicians are always looking out for themselves. It is only by the power of the people that government works for us. Revenue neutral is being presented to mean you and I pay less. What it really means is that the government takes in less.

The original IMPROVE Act was revenue neutral in spite of the fact that the increased cost of transporting groceries would be passed on to you and me. The IMPROVEd Act still lines the coffers of government, and as has been showed to be the case, can and will be used however they see fit.

It’s all our money until it gets into their hands. Then it’s all their money. The sacred money philosophy only goes one way, when they refuse to spend money we have already paid in that is not allocated in any budget, becoming a slush fund for university buildings that will not be named after you, me, or anyone we’re likely to know.

A tax decrease is warranted. Another tax increase is not. Tying the two together is tyrannical. It’s DC-meets-Tennessee. Clean up the corruption? Stop slushing the fruits of our happiness pursuits to float pet projects? Ok, then let’s talk. I don’t expect it to happen, and neither should you. Let’s keep talking in terms of liberty and principles of self-government, and let’s not stop telling our elected employees that we have drawn the line on what they can take.

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