Editorial Roundup

Just raise the

gasoline tax

Republicans in the Mississippi Legislature are so determined to avoid raising taxes for highway maintenance that they’re willing to give up some of their cherished authority.

The easy and obvious solution to the highway funding problem — brought on by higher construction costs and declining revenue due to more fuel-efficient vehicles — is to raise the state gasoline tax. Mississippi has taxed fuel sales at 18.4 cents per gallon for the past 30 years, and the money the tax brings in today isn’t keeping up with the state’s highway needs.

Of course, nobody likes higher taxes. But leaving things as they are will lead to a slowly deteriorating highway network, one which the state invested billions to build. As groups like the Mississippi Economic Council have noted, this would harm the state economy — which can hardly be the goal of legislative leaders.

It may be that Republicans in the Legislature have signed one of those documents in which they promise never to vote for a tax increase. Perhaps that’s why House speaker Philip Gunn and other lawmakers released a list of proposals to pay for improved highways and bridges that includes everything but a higher fuel tax.

The most comical idea is to allow cities and counties to hold referendums to see which voters would raise fuel taxes in their areas.

Municipal officials are among those rolling their eyes at that one. For several years a number of cities, McComb among them, have asked Republican lawmakers for permission to increase the sales tax in their town to pay for specific projects such as street paving.

The cities have been willing to hold a referendum to get voter approval, but the anti-tax legislative majority is relentlessly opposed. The only local-option taxes it has been willing to consider are those on motel rooms.

Fair enough. But now they want to let each city or county vote on fuel taxes? This is so ridiculous that it seems like an idea intentionally set up to fail.

Why would any set of voters in one city or county approve a fuel tax increase when they know very well that voters a few miles away might reject it? Where’s the fairness in that?

Over the past 30 years, Mississippi spent a lot of money to build an excellent system of roads — a system, it should be noted, that extends to every single county in the state.

This investment has maintenance costs, and the people of the state ought to share the expense fairly. At the same time, the Legislature ought to do its job and make a tax decision instead of pawning it off on the public.

Jack Ryan, Enterprise-Journal

 

Another secret presidential search

In coming days, Mississippi’s College Board will announce its presumptive next president of Jackson State University.

As with all the presidential searches at the state’s public universities for the past decade, only a small group of people will know why this candidate was considered the best of all who applied. That’s because the names of the other finalists are a state secret.

It’s a bad way to fill such an important job.

There will be no outside vetting, no serious attempts at getting public buy-in other than some last-minute window-dressing. And everyone will cross their fingers that whoever gets the job will be able to be successful at a school that has been plagued by recent financial controversy.

Mississippi didn’t use to do it this way, and many states still don’t. They release at least the names of a handful of finalists before a selection is made.

That’s what Mississippi should do, too.

Tim Kalich

Editor and Publisher

Greenwood Commonwealth

 

Law stands, will still be ignored

President Donald Trump orchestrated what turned out to be little more than a photo op last week when he signed an executive order on religious freedom.

Rather than gutting a 63-year-old law that restricts political activity by churches, Trump’s order basically restates how the so-called Johnson Amendment has been interpreted since it was ushered through Congress by then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson: Churches, if they want to retain their tax-exempt status, can speak out on political issues as long as they don’t endorse or oppose specific candidates.

After the signing ceremony, in which the president was surrounded by a number of religious leaders, several liberal groups announced that they would not be filing a lawsuit against Trump’s order as they initially anticipated. After reading what the order actually said, they concluded that there was no point in suing, as the order doesn’t really change anything, despite the president’s promise a couple of months earlier to “totally destroy” the law. The executive order was all smoke and mirrors, signifying nothing.

Besides, getting exercised about the Johnson Amendment, whether for or against, is pointless, as the law has been almost never enforced. There is just one known case, in more than six decades of the law’s existence, in which the IRS has revoked a church’s tax-exempt status for getting too politically involved.

The truth is, despite few enforcement actions, the law is routinely violated, and not just by Republican-oriented churches. If anything, here in the South, where there is a longstanding tradition among African-American churches of being the locus of political activity, the Johnson Amendment is either sidestepped or downright ignored more regularly by Democratic-leaning congregations and their pastors than Republican-leaning ones.

The Johnson Amendment is actually a friend to most churches. It gives them a legal out, if they want it, to resist pressure from politicians and their friends to get involved in election contests. By staying neutral, they avoid the risk of fracturing their congregation, some of which might take offense at turning the pulpit into a political stump.

Trump’s order maintains the status quo. It keeps in place a law that appeases those who believe in the strict separation of church and state, yet leaves the same law toothless for those who don’t. Everyone should be happy.

Tim Kalich

Editor and Publisher

Greenwood Commonwealth