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By Ann McFeatters, Tribune News Service (TNS)

SEATTLE — The governor of Washington wants to raise the state tax on a gallon of gasoline by at least 11 cents. A continent away the governor of Maryland wants to block a scheduled increase in the state tax on gas.

We’ve got ourselves more battles between the Democrats and Republicans, and a lot of Americans are going to be miffed at the outcomes.

Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, argues that Washington needs billions of dollars in road infrastructure improvements and with gas prices currently the lowest they have been in years, he thinks now is the time for legislative action. He especially wants a $1 billion road improvement to ease a massive daily bottleneck between Seattle and Tacoma.

But Maryland’s new GOP governor, Larry Hogan, a proud “tax-cutter,” doesn’t care that a series of planned gas tax increases by mid-2017 would help finance $3 billion worth of road and transit work. That would include finishing the much-needed Purple Line to the Washington D.C.-area Metro and a Red Line in Baltimore, taking thousands of cars off clogged highways.

Hogan is against drivers paying $80 more in annual taxes, even to fix truck-devouring potholes. He also wants a legislative vote on every tax increase, including those already scheduled.

Even as Congress bickers over budgets, lawmakers refuse to raise the federal gas tax above 18.4 cents, set in 1993, despite competitiveness worries over the country’s crumbling infrastructure. Even President Obama, who likes to warn about toppling bridges and pothole-pocked highways, hasn’t proposed an increase.

But at the state level, there is a different approach, both pragmatic and vindictive. New Jersey desperately needs improved roads and bridges but Governor Chris Christie, hoping to snag the Republican nomination for president, doesn’t want to have anything to do with raising ANY taxes.

Somewhere there is undoubtedly a secret memo telling governors how to handle the problem — cut taxes on the rich and raise them on the poor. “Brilliant!” say many governors.

Chief among them is Governor Paul LePage (R-ME), who in 2011 signed a $150 million tax cut for the rich and doubled the estate tax exemption to $2 million. He now espouses taxing movie tickets and haircuts.

He and Ohio Governor John Kasich are among Republican governors proposing cuts in state income tax rates even though Kansas Governor Sam Brownback proudly pushed through tax cuts as his state promptly fell into economic freefall.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican running for president, got so ensnared in tax-cutting frenzy he proposed cutting not only education funds but rewrote the soaring language about the purpose of state universities: To “meet the state’s work-force needs.” Amid the outrage, he blamed an “aide.”

Current state income tax rates are bad for the poor and comparably good for the rich, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. While the rich pay more in dollars than the poor, the rate on the top one percent of the richest Americans is 5.4 percent while the rate on the 20 percent poorest segment of the population is 10.9 percent.

Republicans don’t dare risk losing their conservative creds by narrowing this gap but they do see potential windfalls in taxing new forms of consumption such as e-cigarettes, generally most hurtful to the non-rich.

We all think we’re too highly taxed. Because of additional local taxes, many residents of Washington state pay a whopping 9.6 percent in sales tax. Marylanders pay 6 percent.

When you start looking at all taxes, not just state and federal taxes but license tags, property taxes and a myriad of new charges such permits to hold garage sales and own dogs, many of us pay about half of our income in taxes.

Is it fair — or counterproductive — to cut the income tax of the rich and charge the poor and middle-class more for services they must have such as haircuts?

The trickle-down theory of economics — that income generated by the wealthy filters down the ladder to the poor and middle class — was always precarious. But it now makes less sense than ever.

Photo: Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office via Flickr

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

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Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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