NOTABLE & QUOTABLE

Put gas tax into high gear

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The Charleston Post and Courier urges state lawmakers to "Put gas tax into high gear."

It really is uncanny how South Carolina's elected leaders manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, year after year. It happened repeatedly with ethics reform, until a half-measure was finally approved last year. It's happened again and again on plans to increase the state's gas tax to help rebuild South Carolina's roads.

It's happening again.

That's why virtually all of the House of Representatives - Republicans and Democrats - joined Speaker Jay Lucas on Tuesday to demand action from the state Senate and Gov. Henry McMaster. It's a reasonable demand, considering the longstanding need for road improvement, repair and maintenance.

But it may be a forlorn hope, absent some quick action on a gas tax plan with enough support to override a promised gubernatorial veto. There are only 11 working days left in this year's session.

Gov. Henry McMaster, who assumed the job when Nikki Haley became U.N. ambassador, is taking the position that South Carolinians are taxed enough. That may play well at the polls next year, when Mr. McMaster faces challengers in the governor's race. But for better roads, it's bad policy.

South Carolina has a significant deficit in road improvements and increasing the gas tax is the best way to begin making necessary gains on that front.

And it bears repeating: South Carolina's gas tax is the second lowest in the country, and hasn't been raised in 30 years. Meanwhile, the state has one of the largest road networks in the nation. And because of the large numbers of tourists and travelers that visit or pass through South Carolina, many in the coastal area, nearly one-third of gas tax revenue is paid by out-of-state motorists.

Inaction has consequences: increased accidents, rising highway fatalities, higher repair costs, diminished economic health. Those consequences are substantially worse - indeed more costly - than paying a dime more for a gallon of gas. The Senate and Mr. McMaster need to put matters in perspective, and get on board with the House.

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Writing in The New York Times, leading economists Steve Forbes, Larry Kudlow, Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore ask, "Why Are Republicans Making Tax Reform So Hard?"

In the aftermath of the health care blowup, President Trump and the Republicans need a legislative victory. Tax reform probably should have gone first, but now is the time to move it forward with urgency.

Unfortunately, the White House seems all over the map on the subject. One day there is a trial balloon for a value-added tax. The next, the idea of a carbon tax or a reciprocal tax. And now we are hearing the curve ball of a payroll tax cut. Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, has thrown cold water on the idea of any tax bill meeting the August deadline.

One sure lesson from the health care setback is the old admonition "Keep it simple, stupid." The Republicans tried to fix the trillion-dollar health insurance market instead of keeping the focus on repealing Obamacare.

They have a chance to make amends with a new tax bill and still hit the August deadline. We advised President Trump during his election campaign and we believe the Republican Party's lesson for tax reform is this: Don't try to rewrite the entire tax code in one bill.

Instead, the primary goal of Mr. Trump's first tax bill should be to fix the federal corporate and small-business tax system, which has made America increasingly uncompetitive in global markets and has reduced jobs and wages here at home.

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In "This is what the beginning of the end of democracy looks like," authors Joshua Muravchik and Jeffrey Gedmin write in The Washington Post, "Across the world, our form of government may have already reached its zenith."

Freedom diminished around the world in 2016 for the 11th consecutive year, according to Freedom House. These years saw the devastating failure of the "Arab Spring" and the sad turn of Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union back to dictatorship. Russia, China and Iran are increasingly assertive in their regions. And illiberal populist parties - nearly four dozen of various stripes - are on the rise in Europe in parallel with a new angry nationalism in the United States. Taken together, it's hard not to at least contemplate whether democracy might be an endangered species.

To Americans, democracy is a given. But to the rest of the world, it's a fairly recent invention - a creature of the past two centuries.

So what? Trump says he wants to put "only America first." So why care how democracy is faring elsewhere? The answer is that a less democratic world will be a less stable world, more rife with conflict, more fertile with terrorism and less friendly to the United States. The members of Team Trump are not the first Americans to dream of avoiding "foreign wars," but time and again we have found ourselves drawn in, however reluctantly.

A range of developments make this a dangerous time. America's abdication of leadership, of its devotion to ideals and practice of generosity in favor of a policy of narrow and short-term self-interest will only make this time more dangerous, not least for America itself.

Notable & Quotable is compiled by Graham Osteen. Contact him at graham@theitem.com.