Many readers pondering this column will no doubt wonder why I’ve decided to write an opinion piece about a deceased American politician.
Bert T. Combs (August 13, 1911 – December 4, 1991) spent virtually all of his life in the state of Kentucky, which in some respects resembles Alberta. It’s an agricultural state and has the economic boon of energy resources (coal, mostly…the website coaleducation.org estimates mineable coal deposits represent roughly 94 per cent of the resources in Western Kentucky.).
Combs was lucky that his legal career coincided with World War II; he was selected to help prosecute Japanese war criminals and even earned a decoration for it. Such recognition in Atomic Age America guaranteed notoriety of one kind or another.
In 1959 Combs, a left-leaning Democrat, was elected governor of Kentucky and this is where our story begins.
Not long into his first term as governor, Combs began talking about a state sales tax. His argument was “war veterans needed support” and the state coffers were already exhausted. The only way to give the war vets what they needed (and remember Combs’ experience in war trials tended to give his arguments weight) was to introduce a 3 per cent sales tax.
This is what really burns my butt. It was later revealed Combs knew that a sales tax of one per cent was more than adequate to pay the war veterans a stipend, but he went for 3 anyway. He then proceeded to take the other 2 per cent sales tax revenue and buy new highways, build public parks and increase funding to public education.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but primary projects like highways and schools should already be funded out of the general tax revenue collected. That’s what taxes are collected for, primary projects like education and infrastructure.
If Kentucky’s tax system was so screwed up they couldn’t even afford a decent public education system, then Combs’ crusade should have been to clean up the state capital instead of bleeding the taxpayers dry.
Shift now to Alberta 2015. This writer, and many others, have scoured coverage of our last provincial election trying to find any mention of NDP premier Rachel Notley discussing bringing in a provincial sales tax or “carbon tax” as she, Justin Trudeau and the Council of Canadians like to call it. Traditionally, during an election campaign, politicians discuss what is called a “platform.” This platform, if elected, is what the politician’s party intends to do to us taxpayers if elected.
In the depths of a recession in 2015, within about six months of being elected, Notley’s NDP introduces a sweeping climate change plan, including the new provincial sales tax (carbon tax, Notley says), plus the deeply flawed idea of shutting down coal plants in Alberta (that’s a topic for another day).
Even deeply critical as I am of politicians who bring in sales taxes to clean up their own, or others’, mistakes, to a certain extent I have to commend Combs for one thing: honesty. When governor, he lied about the size of tax needed, but he actually lost an earlier governor’s race in Kentucky for being too blunt spoken, and talking openly during the election campaign about bringing in a sales tax.
I guess that would explain why we didn’t hear anything about a sales tax (carbon tax, Notley says) in the 2015 provincial election.
Stu Salkeld is the editor of The Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.