Phased Gas Tax Increase Gives Legs To A Damaging Story

When you face an inevitably controversial story, every strategic communications counselor worth their salt will tell you the same thing: Manage the initial bad story as best you can, but, more importantly, do all you can to halt or limit subsequent follow-up stories. Reason: More damaging stories usually means more reputation damage.

Everyone knows that, right? Well, apparently not the earnest policy wonks who crafted the state transportation finance bill that passed the Minnesota Legislature last week with the courageous backing of a bipartisan super-majority.

The transportation finance wonks wrote a bill that calls for a 2 cent increase on April 1 (prepare for the flood of April Fools jokes), a 3.5 cent increase on October 1, and a 3.5 increase over the next five years. In the policy world, this is known as a “phase-in.” It is done to take away some of the immediate political bite of the proposal, and to allow people adequate time to adjust.

In the media relations world, this is known as “water torture.” That is, the phasing guarantees a steady drip, drip, drip of “DFL Defends Yet Another Gas Tax To Increase” stories onto the foreheads of Minnesota taxpayers, including a bunch of stories just a month prior to the November election.

There has been some terrific journalism done lately by MinnPost and the Star Tribune on this issue. Those stories put this increase in a much more complete and thoughtful context than the standard AP or broadcast news story does.

But the unfortunate reality is, most reporters are not going to cover this story more deeply than “Drivers To Feel Pain Due To Yet Another DFL Gas Tax Increase.” And thanks to legislative wonkery untempered by PR counsel, those reporters are going to be be spending the next five years writing that damaging story over and over and over again.

– Loveland sample invoice kind