Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared at Forbes.com.
Republicans are flailing about these days, trying to rebrand themselves before the next election cycle. A certain amount of introspection and internecine debate is inevitable after suffering a stinging loss against an opponent with a dismal record. One thing the GOP needs to do to gain greater acceptance among voters is to improve their credibility by outgrowing a tiresome, unthinking opposition to any and all tax increases.
This is anything but a recommendation that Republicans “go moderate” and tack for the political center. Being to the right of 99.9 percent of Republicans on taxation, I agree that Americans are overtaxed and for decades have favored zero capital gains tax; advocated zero taxes on corporate profits; and called for a low, flat, income tax.
What bugs me now, and what should concern Republicans who worry about their image, are the recent objections raised by some Republican legislators in Michigan and Maryland to their respective governors’ proposals for higher gasoline taxes to pay for road and bridge repairs. In a fairly typical comment, Maryland state delegate Susan Krebs complained that motorists would bear the cost of the tax hike.
But why shouldn’t motorists—the users of roads—be the ones to pay for the repair and upkeep of those roads? For Republicans to take the position that someone other than motorists should subsidize road maintenance is to adopt the ethos of progressives—that people should consume the economic goods they want and then stick somebody else with the tab.
There is a different, honest, and straightforward approach that Republicans can take if they believe that motorists should not have to pay as much as their governors propose for road maintenance: They could privatize the roads and let the new owners worry about how to cover the considerable costs of providing such a valuable product to drivers.