It looks like Virginians will have to go without their Big Mac value meals. At least if the Democrat majority in the Senate has its way. Earlier today, Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield), got his way, putting aside much of the calendar to get right to the topic du jour: SB 713, a massive gas tax increase (more than a billion dollars through its five-year phase in as the bill's own impact statement claims) which he patrons. The vote carried 25-15, with all 21 Dems voting yea along with four GOP defectors: Senators Harry Blevins (R-14, Chesapeake), Emmett Hanger (R-24, Mount Solon), Fred Quayle (R-13, Suffolk) and John Watkins (R-10, Powhatan). The Big Mac reference is from Senator Saslaw. He loves sound bytes and has told any and all media, and any other willing ears this week, that the cost of the tax increase is no more than "a couple of Big Mac Value Meals." If only McDonald's knew Virginians would cut back on its food, maybe they'd lobby for its defeat as hard as the Pay Day industry is lobbying for the defeat of legitimate Pay Day reform. But the fact is, for an average family with two cars, by the fifth year of this tax increase, Virginians will be giving up not just a couple of fast food meals, but the equivalent of a dinner party at Ruth Chris' Steak House.
What's particularly galling is that Senator Saslaw and others, including Senators Quayle and Hanger, used this train of thoughtlessness: Since gas prices fluctuate so much these days, no one will notice the addition of the tax. Could anyone not get it any worse than that?
Who cares if we notice a penny a year increase? What Saslaw is saying is that it's perfectly fine to tax people as long as the government can hide it! Who cares if government continues to take more and more money from hard-pressed families and the private sector? So they then can do what? Spend it on pork? Could there be any better call for transparency than this line of unreason? Could there be any more evidence of political arrogance than that? Could there actually be a bright side to all this?
If this had happened last year, the vote would have been 34-6 in favor. At least now, most of the Republican senators are sticking together in a new found cohesiveness out of necessity, if not philosophically. In fact, one of the new members of the Republican leadership, Senator Mark Obenshain, one of the two GOP whips, led the floor debate against the tax hike. That wouldn't have happened last year, either.
Proponents even said gas taxes have no affect on the retail price of a gallon of gas! Saslaw cited Florida and Rhode Island. The former had a smaller gas tax and higher retail prices; the latter, a higher tax and lower prices. Okay, time for Econ 101: Supply and demand. Florida = BIG STATE. Rhode Island = small state. There are other factors as well, but the fact is the biggest component of the price of a gallon of gas is federal and state gas taxes. Add a tax, the retailer changes his sign board to the higher; take it away, the sign board changes to the lower. It's an added cost and, as with any product, the retailer passes the cost to the consumer. Whether we notice it or not is beside the point. It's still money coming out of our pockets. Why can't Senator Saslaw comprehend this?
The bill now goes to the House, where Republicans there have said they welcome the chance SB 713 affords to draw more distinctions with the Democrats, and where House Dems must be dread another potential recorded vote.