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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Ouch. Not THAT way...

The headline in today's Post Metro section can't have been what Ike Leggett was shooting for: "Leggett Repeats Call For Gas Tax Increase."

When it first came up during the campaign, many remembered how then-VA Gov. Warner had spun his move to raise taxes to fund sorely needed transportation infrastructure, particularly in gridlock-plagued Northern Virginia. It was disappointing that candidate Leggett did not manage to effectively make that same case for needed infrastructure that would help businesses, commuters, the environment, etc. Somehow the article before the primary screamed about the suggestion of a tax increase, and then gave the reasons behind it in a whisper.

Now it's obvious that Leggett talked about why the tax was needed, and it may well just be that the Post writer heard magic words about raising taxes and wrote her article around them. In the end, it may well be that an issue of this magnitude has to be worked a little harder before you say the magic words that can all too easily rally opposition (or fear in the hearts of policymakers), so that it doesn't go in the wrong direction. Perhaps you need a commission or a study: maybe leaders need to agonize a bit about the problem and the costs of the solutions, then agree to bite the bullet after lining up the support they need.

The actual announcement needs work, too. Quotes like the following can't be allowed to stand alone. "I believed it then, and I believe it now," Leggett said yesterday. "We need to increase the gasoline tax." Simply put, if you give a reporter free standing quotes with punch like that, you are begging to be quoted. It has to be structured so that the rationale leads the scary part -- in the same sentence so they can't be separated in the coverage.

We absolutely need to fix our growing transportation problems. We need to build more transit options with a focus on rail, secure dedicated funding for Metro, build the Purple Line, and even fix and improve some roads. Most Montgomery County residents, and lots of Marylanders generally, know this and, if pitched correctly, would even agree to pay more to get out of the traffic nightmare we're living. And with Roger Berliner, Mike Miller, and others agreeing that something needs to be done, it's certainly possible to do so. If we have to come up with more money to fix our problems, let's say so clearly and effectively.