Tillis on 'Divide and Conquer,' Gas Tax

House Speaker Thom Tillis explains his controversial entitlement comments, and says lawmakers could look at capping the gas tax before the end of the year.

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Laura Leslie

After his town hall meeting in Troy this week, House Speaker Thom Tillis spoke with reporters about his comments about entitlements on YouTube, and on the debate among lawmakers about capping the gas tax in their special session next month.

Clarifying “Divide and Conquer”
Tillis was asked to explain what he meant by his “divide and conquer” comment. He answered by talking about eliminating waste, fraud and abuse in entitlement programs.

That wasn't what he was talking about in the clip from the Mars Hill meeting last week. “You seem to be saying that disabled people should be encouraged to look down on people who make poor choices. Can you clarify?” I asked him.

“Well, I think those are your words, not mine,” Tillis replied. (His actual words are in our story here.)  

“What I’m saying is if somebody makes a choice, where the consequence of that choice is taxpayers having to subsidize the negative consequences of a personal choice somebody makes of sound mind and body, then yeah, I do think we have to look at people and say it’s not right to do that,” he said.

“It’s not right to assume, I’m gonna take this risk, I’m gonna involve myself in this behavior, and if it produces a costly outcome, one I can’t afford, then I’ll just rely on the government to take money away from others to pay for it,” Tillis continued. “That’s inherently wrong and unfair.”

"What I was trying to say there, and maybe it was a poor word choice, is that we need to divide and look at everybody who's receiving government support and separate those from people who had no choice in the matter whatsoever," he said.

On the Gas Tax

The gas tax was a hot topic at the town hall meeting that day. It’s projected to rise four cents on January 1, 2012, due to a rise in gas prices over the past few months.

During the meeting,an audience member asked whether lawmakers would take action to stop the increase. Tillis didn’t take a position. “The House is pretty intent on trying to cap it, freeze it, or do something else. The volatility is bad for business,” Tillis told the man.

But, Tillis added, the gas tax is the main source of funding for badly needed road projects and bridge repairs. “What I tell the members is, you can’t have it both ways. That’s why we’re looking at it cautiously.”

Tillis said lawmakers might take some action on the gas tax before the next short session in May.

“We’re looking at that four-cent tax increase at the beginning of the year, and we’re trying to sort out what the appetite of the citizens is on that,” he explained to reporters after the meeting.

“If you think about the planning horizon, the assumption about the four-cent revenue, at least for the next year and a half, has been baked in to some transportation planning assumptions,” said Tillis. “So what we’re trying to find out now is, if we were to cut, freeze, or eliminate it at some level - go through the different options - what projects that are on the books would slip, or go off the books, or go off the TIP [Transportation Improvement Plan]?”

“And when you talk with members, and actually you speak with people in town hall meetings, and they have some confidence now that gas tax dollars are actually going for roads, and then you explain to them how it’s more formulaic, then they’re a little bit more open to looking at it and not making just an emotional decision,” he said.

“But make no mistake about it,” Tillis concluded. “The House – particularly the House – is very concerned with just doing nothing and letting things play out.”

You can see the whole, unedited Q&A in the video above. 

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