A ‘surcharge’ on critics of government

Pick your favorite constitutional right. Then imagine the government putting a price on it.

Freedom to assemble? Passes to the protest sold at city hall.

Vote? That ballot will be $10.

Worship? Pay the county’s sermon fee.

Petition? One John Hancock, $25.

Bear arms? An 8 percent Second Amendment surcharge on firearms.

Freedom of press? A tax on newspapers critical of government officials.

Whoa! That last one isn’t so hypothetical.

The Clark County Commission has actually been considering doing just that. It’s looking at imposing an “environmental surcharge” on The Columbian, the region’s Vancouver-based daily newspaper.

As it happens, The Columbian in recent months has published a series of stories exposing incompetence and cronyism in the upper reaches of county government. The stories have embarrassed commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke. They also embarrassed Republican state Sen. Don Benton, whom Madore and Mielke hired as the county’s director of environmental services last year despite his lack of qualifications.

The proposal for the “environmental surcharge” came from Benton. He hypothesized that it might be levied on newspapers with circulations exceeding 28,500. By some coincidence, only one newspaper fits that description.

Retaliation? How could anyone imagine such a thing?

It’s all about the wood pulping and inks that go into newspaper production, which supposedly threaten Clark County’s water supply. Or else it’s about litter. Yes – that’s the ticket. It’s a “litter tax.”

Of course, you’d have to be looking past the cigarette butts, glass bottles, pop and beer cans, Super Big Gulp cups, plastic sacks, hamburger wrappers, paper bags and everything else that adorns the scenery.

Single out The Columbian? Who, us?

Let’s cut the guano and get to the heart of what’s going on here:

Government officials don’t like the heat they’re getting from a newspaper. They’re considering punishing that newspaper with a retaliatory tax. Scenarios like this are precisely why the framers put the freedom of the press in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

Madore, Mielke and Benton think they’re quarrelling with The Columbian. Their real quarrel is with the Constitution.