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By Steve Hunley

In my opinion, one of the most important maxims in business is “don’t confuse your customer.” This maxim is also true for politics. However, in the case of politicians, customers are voters. So, one of the top maxims of politicians should be “don’t confuse the voter.”

For several months there has been talk among Republicans in both Nashville and Washington about raising the gas tax. Republicans raising taxes? Do what?

Senator Bob Corker has been talking about “infrastructure needs,” as has Governor Bill Haslam. I thought that’s what some of President Obama’s stimulus money was supposed to have paid for a few years ago.

The State Comptroller’s office has released a report saying the gas tax revenue is “stalled;” some officials in the Haslam administration lament the gas tax is worse than stalled and is in fact moving in reverse. I’ve never seen many taxes move in reverse. Have you? Better gas efficiency and hybrids have certainly affected the government’s share of the haul, not to mention the transportation fund has been raided for other purposes in the past.

With falling gas prices, enterprising politicians see an opportunity to start a discussion about hiking the gasoline tax. Heaven forbid that the consumer would actually get a break in gas prices without politicians trying to figure out how to get their hands on more money.

President Obama has just given his State of the Union address, stressing “income inequality” and proposing to soak the rich to help the “middle class.” I don’t know of a single person who ever got a pay raise because somebody else’s taxes were raised, except perhaps some politicians or government employees. Obama knows the Congress isn’t likely to pass his recommendations and he seems to be setting the platform for the next presidential campaign.

Considering all the supposed concern by politicians about how the middle class is faring, it really is amazing these folks don’t think about just what a break falling gas prices mean to the average family. Saving at the gas pump means working families have more money to spend on other necessities. Note I did not say ‘luxuries.’

The State of Tennessee currently collects 21.4 cents per gallon of gas in taxes. The federal government collects 18.4 cents per gallon in gas taxes. That’s about 40 cents per gallon in gas taxes collected by the government. Both the state and federal governments are talking about needing more gasoline taxes to maintain and expand the “infrastructure.’

Despite boasts that the economy is making a comeback, there are all too many people who haven’t felt any uptick in their own fortunes. Pork has gone up 53% in the last year. The price of beef per pound makes it seem like a better investment than gold.

Finally, just when folks are beginning to get a break, the politicians start talk about infrastructure and raising the gas tax. In 2008 when consumers were paying $5 per gallon at the pump, the economy, not surprisingly, came to a crashing halt. Does anyone imagine for a moment that gas prices are going to remain low or go even lower still? Not likely, but what we do know is that gas prices will almost certainly go back up.

Just about everything in our economy is affected by the price of gas – – – the cost of transporting foodstuffs to the grocery stores affects the prices we pay in buying food for our families. In fact, the cost of transporting just about any consumer products affects the price of that particular product. Plastics and numerous other items are made with petroleum, as are a host of other things.

Boost the gas tax and it is going to jack up the cost of many basic necessities for working people.

The Chamber of Commerce types are all for raising the gas tax and why wouldn’t they be? Their members number those who are contractors, road builders, and sellers of construction equipment, all of whom are the folks who will see the benefit of the tax increase in terms of cash in their pockets.

More and more people are becoming disillusioned with government and politicians. More and more people see less and less difference between Republicans and Democrats. Politics is becoming more and more polarized between classes and it is really hard to believe there is an increasing number of folks who haven’t made the most of their lives and opportunities who blame those who are more successful.

The vision of Obama is that individual effort to succeed isn’t necessary to success; instead, the government will provide assistance. Free markets should be replaced by government spending. Supposedly, all will rise on a tide of government dependence and eliminate unfair income inequality. The level of success of the top 1% should have nothing to do with whether the bottom 20% can move up and succeed. I have never been a fan of class warfare and never will be.

Republicans in Washington and Nashville need to carefully consider that had we wanted to elect people to raise our taxes, we could have simply voted for Democrats. And, Obama’s sudden interest in the middle class is little more than a poorly disguised effort to tax and spend even more.

The Democrats cry we have to do more to help the poor and provide free health care, free food, free everything. The Republicans cry we need to help business and then discuss raising the gas tax. There’s little difference between the welfare pedaled by the Democrats and the corporate welfare pushed by the Republicans.

Hard work, thrift and good character cannot be conferred by any government or an act of Congress. The backbone of this country isn’t the huge corporations and it certainly aren’t those looking to live off someone else’s hard work. The backbone of this country is small business and the average person going to work every day trying to make a better life for his or her family.

Choices matter. Making stupid choices and poor decisions have consequences and they should have consequences. The idea that the government can protect or save people from their own foolish choices is asinine.

The middle class hasn’t shrunk because they aren’t working; the middle class has shrunk because it’s being taxed to death in the name of economic opportunity for the disadvantaged. It’s shrinking because out-of-touch politicians don’t seem to realize what it takes for families to live.

Republicans need to differentiate themselves from Democrats; all too often Democrats cast themselves as compassionate, yet their idea of charity is for everyone else to foot the bill for what they consider to be compassionate. Republicans too often stumble about and confuse the voter.

I have always considered myself to be a compassionate person. Yes, let’s help children, the elderly, and those who are truly disabled. Everyone else needs to bring something to the table and pull their own weight.

We are always being told the government needs higher and higher taxes to keep things running and provide services, yet we are awash in a sea of debt from living beyond our means and that bill WILL come due.

God help us all when it is time to pay that bill.

Another great maxim to live by is to “live within your means” and that includes the government, as well as the people who pay the bills.