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Missoula Won’t Get a Gas Tax This Year, Here’s Why

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Photo courtesy of tax credits/Flickr

Missoula will not get a gas tax this year. I realize that the county commissioners haven’t even given the idea a thumbs up or thumbs down yet, but in the unlikely chance that they do put the tax on the ballot, it would be a miracle if the voters of Missoula county decide to vote for it. Why? Because the way the tax is being sold to voters is as a threat. The current case for the gas tax goes something like this: The city needs new sidewalks, and instead of raising property taxes the city is considering adding the gas tax. We all know property taxes are too high, therefore, vote for the gas tax.

As packaged now, the gas tax has absolutely no promise for voters in the city of Missoula, unless, of course, you don’t drive . . . then the gas tax is great. For all drivers though, voting for the gas tax is a bigger risk than voting against it. By voting for the gas tax, we would be simply adding a new tax burden on ourselves with no promise of having another tax burden lowered or removed.

In my opinion, a gas tax could be a great idea for Missoula. As Talk Back listeners know, I think sales taxes are more ethically sound than property or income taxes. A gas tax that goes to paying for street repairs and improvements is a more direct line of purpose and funding than a property tax would be. Also, the gas tax spreads the burden of paying for Missoula county improvements out to those who don’t live in the county, but still choose to use its roads. Because of Missoula’s nature as a commercial hub, the gas tax could work out to greatly improve the city.

When the gas tax re-enters the public arena in the future (which it almost certainly will) the key to selling the tax will be in convincing Missoulians not only that the tax will offset property taxes, but that it’s a “better” way to be taxed. No matter how you frame the question though, to many voters, asking for a new tax of any kind is going to go over about as well as asking them where they would like to be shot.

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