As the editorial notes in its close:
Subtlety has no place in election campaigns. Helen Clark would have known she was wildly misrepresenting Mr Williamson's words when she said National's tolls would claw back its tax cuts. Tax is compulsory, tolls need not be. The projects cited by Mr Williamson included tunnelled sections of Auckland's western ring road through Waterview and a Northern Motorway extension to Warkworth, both of which would leave reasonable alternative routes available.
A Northern Motorway extension from Albany to Puhoi will open next year with a toll of $2. Transport Minister Annette King says the charge will cover only half the construction cost even at the motorway's maximum use. She says Mr Williamson misses the point that "you can't set a toll so high that people won't use the road".
Private enterprise understands that point well. It is fundamental to the economics of an investment that the product can be sold at a price people are willing to pay. The Government's Transport Agency possibly underestimates the amount motorists might pay for a faster, more convenient route. In a public-private partnership the private investor is better placed to make the estimate, as long as the partnership does not indemnify the private participant against losses.
Mr English, like Mrs King, appears to have accepted the agency's view that $2 is the maximum that can be charged before use declines. If National is going to set that sort of heavily subsidised toll, there seems no public value in a partnership with private interests.
Mr Williamson's candour was in accord with the logic of his party's stated policy, Mr English's correction of him leaves serious doubt of the policy's integrity. Sometimes caution is not the safest political course. National has merely muddied its water again and given the Government another straw to grab.