This past Saturday, I took a few minutes after teaching my MBA class at the University of Indianapolis to walk over to the Hoosier Environmental Council's 5th Annual Greening the Statehouse Conference. My goal was to interview Jesse Kharbanda for my website. While waiting for him to finish a speech he was giving, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman familiar with my work. He asked me what I thought about an increase in the gas tax over at the Legislature. I told it wasn't going to happen.
He said it was necessary to help pay for mass transit. I told him it wasn't going to happen.
He said it would help decrease the number of cars on the road and help the environment. I told him it wasn't going to happen.
He then went on to say people pay high gas prices all the time and an increase in the gas tax won't bother them too much. Guess what I told him? You got it, it wasn't going to happen.
Actually the best argument to make for increasing the gas tax is that as we drive more fuel-efficient vehicles and get more mileage per gallon, we pay less in taxes for the same amount of gas we would consume. Therefore, increasing the tax would be the way to recapture some of that lost revenue needed to pay for the roads. However, despite that brilliant piece of logic, it's not going to happen.
It's not going to happen because no lawmaker with any sense of political self-preservation is going to vote to raise your gas taxes. It's that simple.
If the environmental community wants to make inroads in the brave new GOP supermajority world we live in these days, the green they will have to focus on will have to be dollars and a few cents.
Luckily, I think the top leadership recognizes that. I am not sure if the rank and file appreciates that concept just yet. I don't believe that protecting the economy and protecting the environment have to be an either or game. While I am as pro-business as the next capitalist pig, I get the fact that if we don't have the resources, we can't engage in the capitalism. And I truly believe in the Native American adage of leaving the land in better shape than you found it.
When Kharbanda told me during our interview that protecting Indiana's environment meant also protecting the state's multi-billion tourism industry, a light came on. I think it was green one, too. Clean air, clean water and pristine land always good for the state's parks, beaches and other amenities. All I could think was that was the argument to make to lawmakers. Show them how protecting the environment is good for business and jobs and you have a much better fighting chance of not only surviving, but thriving.
Now granted, this of course means the environmentalists are going to have to do some serious modification on their coal message and throw in the towel on I-69, but other than that, if they stay focused and tie that green environment with the green in the taxpayers' pocketbook, there's no reason that won't see more green than red during this upcoming session.