Another Tax

Bill Northrop

Want better roads and highways? Pay more taxes, new taxes as in a taxes on miles driven. I wrote two weeks ago about the guys who contend that higher gasoline prices are really good for us. This is not related to that.

 It’s simple. Highway taxes, specifically, fuel taxes are user taxes. The more you drive, the more gasoline you purchase, the more you pay. The more you pay, the more money there is for highways (and transit systems).

  That leads us to the latest proposal within the Obama administration although it has not been vetted by his advisors.  It’s an electronic recording of how many miles each of us drives and taxing us on that basis. A news story about this in The Hill publication a week or so ago drew hundreds of negative reactions which is not surprising.

  The initial proposal is that each car would be outfitted with an electronic recording device that would be tapped into at refueling time and automatically billed. That doesn’t sound so practical and I’m certain there are better ways at collection. Or, I may have misinterpreted the process.

  Anyway, drive more and you get taxed more. It’s kind of unfair to those who have more fuel efficient vehicles although I believe they’d still pay the gasoline tax (18.4 cents for the feds). In other words, I doubt this would be a replacement tax. In fact, it seems easier to just raise the fuel tax. After all, as a percentage of the cost of gasoline, we’re paying less. Of course, percentages aren’t dollars.

  I wrote that this hasn’t been vetted by the administration, but $200 million has been proposed for a study and implementation. In other words, another agency. But, back to the problems. Besides the people who went to more efficiently operated vehicles, how about those who are switching to all electric vehicles? Oh, on second thought, maybe that’s the problem. No gasoline, no taxes, no money.

  Then there are those who have long commutes – not just those in the suburbs, but those in rural areas who need to shop, get medical treatment in far away cities and so forth. That’s not a made up problem. A few years ago I met a couple in Wyoming who drove 150 miles to western Nebraska once a month to grocery shop at the nearest super market. Unreal, but true.

  On line comments at the bottom of the story were not positive. There were hundreds of them and only a few positive. A recurring complaint was about the potential loss of privacy not that we have much of that left. If you have a cell phone, someone can track you. If you have a smart phone with GPS, you’re being tracked. In fact, almost every app has a warning that someone, maybe not Big Brother but his relatives, big business, are watching and collecting. Also, your car computer can be tapped by law enforcement purposes to track your driving. So, this would just be another step, but it would be Big Brother.

  It’s almost certain that states would tap into this because it is the states that have the highest highway burdens. But, what the heck, just another tax. On the other hand, it does take money to build highways and bridges even if we pay billions more because the feds require prevailing (read, union) wages. But that’s another story.

  As our population grows and there are more vehicles on the roads we’ll need more roads whether people drive electric, natural gas, or gasoline fueled vehicles. Total revenues may not decline as growth occurs, but neither will they rise fast enough.

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