Minter Slams Scott Over Tax She Would Have Raised Higher | Off Message

Minter Slams Scott Over Tax She Would Have Raised Higher


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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter and Republican rival Phil Scott have spent the campaign season telling half-truths about their respective tax records

In one recent television advertisement, Minter raises the dissembling to a whole new level. The ad, which the campaign did not post online, responds to Republican Governors Association attacks on the former transportation secretary. 

"These ads attacking Sue Minter are trying to trick you," her ad begins. "They're paid for by a national Republican group whose biggest funder is the oil billionaire Koch brothers."

That's true. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the RGA's top donor is Koch Industries. As Seven Days reported earlier this week, the RGA has spent $1.8 million promoting Scott and criticizing Minter.

"But here's the real trick," Minter's ad continues. "Phil Scott voted to raise the gas tax and supported a tax on every mile you drive. So while the Koch brothers are trying to hide Scott's Republican agenda, Sue Minter's the one working for Vermont families."

Let's set aside the counterfactual assertion that the "oil billionaire" Koch brothers would, for some reason, want to raise taxes on oil-derived products. And let's also ignore the "supported a tax on every mile you drive" claim. We covered that in a recent column. (Short explanation: Minter and Scott have both pondered a move from a per-gallon tax to a mileage tax.)

The real whopper in this ad is Minter's criticism of Scott's 2009 vote to raise the gas tax. It's a whopper because Minter voted for the same bill — and, earlier in the legislative process, she voted to raise the gas tax even higher than Scott did. 

At the time, Minter was serving in the Vermont House and Scott in the Senate. In early April, the House voted to raise the tax on gasoline and diesel by five cents per gallon. That proposal also tied the gas tax to inflation. Minter, then a member of the House Appropriations Committee, supported the bill and stood up on the House floor to explain her vote. 

"Mr. Speaker, I voted 'yes' because the time has come to stop the downward spiral of our crumbling bridges and roads," she said, arguing that 36 percent of the state's roads were in "very poor" condition, 16 percent of its bridges were "structurally deficient" and the state's transportation fund was $23 million in the hole. "Enough is enough. Let’s take responsibility for fixing these serious problems now rather than leaving a bigger bill to others in the future."

The Senate took a different approach. Later that month, Scott and his peers voted unanimously for a 2 percent excise tax on gas and diesel, along with various fee increases. According to a contemporaneous story in the Rutland Herald, that 2 percent excise tax amounted to three cents per gallon at the time — less than what Minter and her colleagues had proposed. 

In May, the House and Senate reached a compromise — brokered in part by Scott, who served on the conference committee — to raise a 2 percent tax on gas and a three-cent-per-gallon tax on diesel. It also tied certain transportation fees, including those for licenses and registrations, to inflation. Both Minter's and Scott's chambers approved the compromise without roll-call votes. 

According to Scott campaign spokesman Ethan Latour, Minter's ad "is meant to mislead over the fact that Phil is the more fiscally prudent candidate in this election at a time when Vermont needs fiscal leadership."

"Phil fought hard and succeeded in scaling back the tax that came over from the House with Sue's fingerprints," Latour said. 

Asked three times Monday afternoon whether it was hypocritical for her to criticize Scott over a tax she tried to raise even higher, Minter would not say. 

"Like Phil, I know we have to invest in our transportation infrastructure," she said in a brief interview following a candidate forum in Burlington. 

When Seven Days pointed out that she wasn't answering the question, Minter said, "Here's what I know: that this election there are $1.5 million being spent by the Republican Governors Association and the Koch brothers, who want to buy this election."

She concluded: "And that's my response."