State Sen. Steve Buehrer and State Rep. Bob Latta each claim a common enemy in their congressional race: taxes.
The two Republican opponents generally regard taxes as the bane of wealth, robbing citizens of their bank accounts and entrepreneurial zeal in exchange for bloated government bureaucracies.
They each boast anti-tax credentials, with Mr. Latta limiting the estate tax and Mr. Buehrer opposing a 2003 budget proposal that temporarily increased the state sales tax.
But as members of the Ohio House in 2003, both candidates voted to raise the state gasoline tax. Their votes show the glaring exception in Mr. Buehrer and Mr. Latta s shared belief that taxes stunt economic development.
With I-80, I-75, and U.S. 24 each blazing their way across Ohio s 5th District, Mr. Latta and Mr. Buehrer see highways as the paths to prosperity.
Retail, manufacturing, and distribution centers can cluster near exits. And by raising the gasoline tax to 28 cents a gallon from 22 cents, they added about $450 million this year alone to state funds for road construction and repairs.
It s recognition of the fact that Ohio and specifically northwest Ohio is a real transportation hub, said Mr. Buehrer (R., Delta), who sponsored the increase at the request of then-Gov. Bob Taft. We need to have good, quality infrastructure if we re going to be able to attract jobs to our region.
Phased in during three years, the increase distributed a greater percentage of its proceeds to cities, counties, and townships than under the previous gas tax structure. It also weaned financing for the Ohio Highway Patrol off the gas tax to other funding sources.
Roadway projects have historically been the domain of the federal, state, and local governments, rather than private investors. A 1999 survey of studies by the U.S Department of Agriculture found that improved roads helped rural economies, an indication that taxes can assist the course of the free market.
In northwest Ohio specifically, access to I-75 played a fundamental role in Rossford getting a Bass Pro store.
As a state legislator, Mr. Latta (R., Bowling Green) labored eight years to catch Bass Pro. The company anticipates its project will create the equivalent of 250 full-time jobs.
Given that background, Mr. Buehrer said it was hypocritical for Mr. Latta to run a TV ad attacking him for proposing the gas-tax increase. However, a separate Buehrer ad circulating on the Web criticizes Mr. Latta for helping to pass the gas-tax increase.
While Mr. Latta believes taxes should be less burdensome, he said they are the price we pay for a civilized society, referencing the Oliver Wendell Holmes quote inscribed at the entrance to IRS headquarters in Washington.
Mr. Latta agrees with Mr. Buehrer that highways spur economic development. He said that spending on public education is another form of economic development, creating a talented work force capable of landing jobs that command higher salaries.
Rather than cut spending on education in the 2003 budget vote, Mr. Latta said he followed the rulings of the Ohio Supreme Court and supported the temporary sales tax increase, applying the same economic development rationale as he did to the gas tax.
The Buehrer campaign has bashed Mr. Latta for the vote.
Some of us, unfortunately, had to make a tough choice, since we are constitutionally mandated to balance the budget, Mr. Latta said.
However, there is no guarantee that higher gas taxes enable better roads and more economic opportunity. Inflation ate up most of the proceeds from the 28-cents-a-gallon tax.
That increased our income, no doubt about it, said Jim Moyer, who is the Sandusky County engineer. But at the same time, asphalt, concrete, and steel prices went up by about 40 percent, so we re back where we started.
It takes 2,000 tons of asphalt to build a mile of road, Mr. Moyer said. Asphalt costs $48 a ton, up from $32 a ton three years ago.
That means each mile of asphalt costs $32,000 more now than it did when the increase started.
When asked if inflation in construction costs required an additional increase in the gasoline tax, Mr. Buehrer and Mr. Latta both now running for Congress reached the same answer.
They said no.
Contact Joshua Boak at: email@example.com, or 419-724-6728.