Rhetoric 2012, Second Session

Welcome back to our Rhetoric 2012 class, students. Professor Priddy hopes you have been carefully studying the rhetorical phrases we talked about in our last session and have been evaluating those who throw them around in their speeches, news releases, and commercials.

Today we are going to address some more important and related phrases. Let’s start with “revenue enhancement” and “no new taxes.” We’ll use them as springboards for discussions of other related phrases that let those who advocate them avoid the dreaded word “tax.”

“Revenue enhancement” is a phrase that cropped up, oh, twenty or thirty years ago in our political discourse. It’s a phrase used by those who don’t have the guts to say “tax increase.” It was Theodore Roosevelt who recalled a friend in 1879 called phrases such as “revenue enhancement” WEASEL WORDS.

It might be easy to think the phrase “revenue enhancement” is an anachronism because of the overwhelming use of the phrase “no new taxes” or its sibling phrase, “without a tax increase.” The former, “no new taxes,” has clouded credentials because it came from Bush 41 who broke the promise by proposing a new tax increase. Today our politicians are proud to proclaim they have proposed or approved new budgets “without a tax increase.” The fact that along the way they cut funding to higher and lower education, for example, is secondary to holding the line on taxes.

But those actions only mean that others down the government money chain have to start talking about “revenue enhancements.” That can mean higher school levies (another word for taxes) at the elementary and secondary district level. It can mean higher tuitions at public colleges, universities, and technical schools. “Without a tax increase” is a handy phrase at the state level. But it doesn’t mean there won’t be “revenue enhancement” at the lower level to make up for it.

You also should realize that “no tax increase” doesn’t mean “no FEE increase.” Governor Nixon is proposing an increased “fee” for those who patronize Missouri’s casinos. No, it’s not a casino tax increase. It’s a fee increase. The money will go to improve homes for veterans.

The proportion of veterans homes budgets coming from the state has shrunk from about 40 percent to about 20 percent, as the portion of state funding for higher education has shrunk. The FEE increase—or maybe its a fee enhancement–will help that percentage rise for the veterans homes. So far our lawmakers haven’t determined that a FEE that would be used for smoking cessation and health problems caused by tobacco consumption could be assessed. They’ve already said, “This is no time for a tax increase of any kind,” not even on tobacco which has the nation’s lowest TAX in Missouri.

Tax and spend has become such a hackneyed expression, clearing the way for the much more accurate Fee and spend.

A related word has gained some prominence in recent days: toll.

MODOT, suffering from declining fuel TAX income and because a good chunk of the fuel TAX. is being used to pay off bonds that were issued to make our roads smooth again for a few years, wants the legislature to allow highway tolls to be charged on Interstate 70. It’s not a tax for use of the road, mind you, it’s a “toll.” One critic of the plan notes that the “toll” would be much, much, much higher than any fuel TAX increase anybody has proposed.

Things get a little complicated because the fuel tax is earmarked for transportation purposes and therefore is considered a “user fee” since the fuel is used for transportation. The toll for Interstate 70 also is considered a “user fee” because the people using the highway are charged a fee for that use.

So remember, students, “without a tax increase,” a/ka as “no revenue enhancement” doesn’t mean you won’t be paying higher taxes. They’re taxes disguised as fees, tolls, and tuition increases.

Add to that list “surcharge.” One of the bills before the legislature this year puts a twenty-dollar surcharge on court filings for certain purposes. That’s not a tax increase, mind you. That’s a surcharge increase. And it’s verbal dodge ball because it is a surcharge on existing FEES. And because it’s a surcharge increase on fees, it doesn’t violate any of the promises not to increase taxes.

So, students, the assignment for today is to explore with those who proudly proclaim that THEY have not enacted any tax increases whether their main accomplishment has been to do what they say they have not done, but have hidden their actions under different names.

Let’s add these phrases to your notebooks, to go with the phrases “strong support” and “career politicians”:

“revenue enhancement”
“without a tax increase”
“tuition increase”

Keep track of those career politicians who give strong support to revenue enhancements that can be created without tax increases but might be fees, tuition increases, surcharges, or tolls.

And while you’re at it, see if you can find a free lunch.

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