published Saturday, April 5th, 2014

Raise barge fuel tax; lack of opposition pondered

Give Barge Owners What They Want

Is there an area politician who doesn’t want the lock project at Chickamauga Dam to be completed?

Hands?

Didn’t think so.

Let’s all agree we can’t snap our fingers and make it happen. And then let’s see what can be done.

There’s no guarantee that raising the diesel fuel tax on barges that use the country’s inland waterways will be the cure-all that restarts the dam project. Still, barge owners, U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Army (civil works) Jo-Ellen Darcy and Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander say it would help fund Chickamauga and other dam projects.

Darcy said this week a higher diesel fuel tax — or a user fee proposed earlier this year by the Obama administration — “would increase the chances” for the restart of the project, which has been idle for three years because other projects have sucked up available funds.

The diesel fuel tax of 6 to 8 cents per gallon would be the better option because, according to Alexander, barge owners have asked for it to help speed their way more rapidly through locks and because a user fee would also hit the weekend fisherman and occasional pleasure boater.

Tennessee’s senior senator said a diesel fuel tax increase on barge and tugboat owners would generate roughly $100 million for the projects, which is what the Obama administration said would be raised by the user fee.

Both Alexander and U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann have said changes made earlier this year in the funding formula of the barge-funded trust fund should help more projects — rather than just the all-consuming, $3 billion lock project at the Olmsted Dam on the Ohio River — move along, but those funds haven’t put Chickamauga in the bull’s eye yet.

The Chattanooga congressman hasn’t backed a fuel tax increase but hasn’t ruled it out.

Lock and dam projects are funded both by fuel tax collections for the Inland Waterway Users Fund and through taxpayer funds into the federal treasury.

Public Service Anyone?

Tennessee state Sen. Bo Watson, state Reps. Gerald McCormick, JoAnne Favors and Mike Carter, state House candidate Marc Gravitt, and judges David Bales, Clarence Shattuck, Lila Statom and Gary Starnes all will be re-elected — or elected in Gravitt’s case — to their respective posts because they have no opposition.

That’s a shame. Not that they might be elected or re-elected but that they have no opposition. Principled opponents force incumbents to discuss their records and may offer new solutions for difficult problems.

There are, of course, legitimate reasons the above names will run unopposed. Potential opponents might conclude the candidates are, indeed, worthy public servants and heartily deserve another term.

Or possible foes might conclude it’s too time-consuming and difficult to raise money and that they wouldn’t have a chance to win, especially in districts drawn to protect state Senate or state House seats held by individuals in both parties.

But the lack of opposition is especially surprising in House District 30, which stretches from less affluent East Lake to tony Mountain Shadows and beyond, where Gravitt, an East Ridge city councilman and businessman, drew neither Republican primary opposition in the August election nor a Democrat foe for the November general election.

Again, nothing against Gravitt. It’s just that an open seat is usually up for grabs, while it is much more difficult to unseat an opponent.

Chattanooga and Hamilton County, as recent Times Free Press editorial board meetings with County Commission candidates have proven, have outstanding citizens of every political stripe willing to offer their services. Many of those good candidates will lose in the May primaries. It’s too bad some of them weren’t interested in the above seats in which the candidates will run without opposition.

It’s The Stupid Economy

Economists tell us the Great Recession ended in June 2009, nearly five years ago. So how are you doing?

Check out these Times Free Press headlines from the last week: “Dalton unemployment falls to 5-year low, but jobless rate is up in most area counties”; “$1 trillion student loan debt widens U.S. wealth gap”; “Economic growth remains tepid”; “U.S. manufacturing expanded more quickly in March”; “U.S. home prices rose in February despite weaker sales”; “U.S. construction spending increase tiny 0.1 percent”; and “U.S. factory orders rebound 1.6 percent in February.”

Confusing, isn’t it. Now, open your wallet or your purse. You’ll know how your economy is doing. The country’s is anybody’s guess.

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