Shame on you, Mike DeWine. After repeatedly slamming your Democratic opponent in the gubernatorial campaign as a tax and spend liberal, the first thing you did as governor of Ohio was to pitch a 64 percent tax increase on those who can least afford it. Hiking the state gas tax was your first response to fixing a funding gap in the state transportation budget.
You effectively duped voters the same way George H.W. Bush did with his famous (broken) campaign promise: “Read my lips, no new taxes.” You hoped to minimize the certain backlash from Ohioans paying more at the pumps by moving fast to enact your new tax increase. You hoped we’d find out after the fact.
You quickly assembled a commission to come up with a plan to fund pressing infrastructure needs. After taking testimony for just two days, the panel decided an 18-cent spike in the state’s 28-cent gas tax was the solution. That gave you cover to push for a higher gas tax and tie it to inflation — so the rate could automatically rise even higher every year.
So what if nearly doubling the gas tax was clearly a regressive move that would pinch working-class people far more than wealthy folks like you, governor. All the Republican-controlled General Assembly had to do was kick the state gas tax up to 46-cents a gallon by March 31, the deadline for sighing the transportation budget bill into law, and the state gas tax would jump to fifth highest in the country.
Most Ohioans wouldn’t be the wiser about your tax increase until it took effect July 1 — at the peak of summer travel. But by then it would be a done deal, and you would have moved onto other schemes to tax and spend on the backs of unsuspecting constituents.
As a millionaire, you displayed a remarkable disconnect from ordinary lives in this hardscrabble state with your justification about jacking up the gas tax: “Eighteen cents is a minimalist approach, is a conservative approach, it is frankly the status quo approach.”
Governor, when was the last time you kept a mental tally of local gas prices while you were driving around so you could fill up at the cheapest possible spot? If you’re living paycheck to paycheck — like many hourly wage earners in Ohio — you do it all the time. There’s a reason for the long lines of cars parked at Sam’s Club pumps on the weekend.
It’s no secret that wage growth in Ohio has barely budged, which means our buying power has barely budged. Our cost of living expenses, even with discounts, coupons and rebates, regularly overwhelm our monthly income. Add medical and college tuition costs into the mix of no money. Yet you, sir, have the nerve to call a big hike in what Ohio charges motorists at the pump minimal.
Really? Many of us are already paying higher local income and sales taxes, thanks to the last Republican administration’s shell game of cutting local government funding (another minimalist approach?) to brag about reducing the tax burden with lowered state income taxes while boosting the rainy day fund. Ohioans in the disappearing middle class, or living below the poverty line, or on fix incomes can’t get ahead for trying with rising taxes and state fees that continually strain stretched budgets.
Obviously, you don’t get that, Gov. DeWine. You don’t get that adding $150, $180, or more a year to gasoline costs — at a minimum of a once-a-week fill-up — is not minimal. Especially not if you’re stringing together two or more low-paying jobs to sustain yourself or your family.
Fortunately, Republican lawmakers were more restrained about how much they increased the state fee drivers pay on top of the federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents-per-gallon. The Ohio House recently passed a transportation bill that would phase in a 10.7 cents gas tax increase over two years and a 20-cent hike for diesel over three years, starting Oct. 1.
The House plan, which would not be indexed to inflation, also gives a bigger share of gas tax revenue to local governments and increases spending for public transit. This is good. The measure now heads to the Ohio Senate where our tax-hungry governor plans to push hard for his higher gas tax rate (he calls it “the bare minimum”) as the only way to fill a $1 billion hole in the transportation budget.
He is not interested in lessening the impact on struggling Ohioans or using some of the state’s $2.7 billion in reserve funds to mitigate the burden at the pumps. Just raising taxes.
Shame on you, Mike DeWine.
Johanek is a veteran print and broadcast journalist.