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Our Government in Action: Double Taxation

Friday, March 25, 2011, 15:26 EST Leave a comment Go to comments

If there is one thing politicians do better than spending other people’s money, it’s coming up with innovative ways of taking that money in the first place. The latest Congressional bright idea for bringing in more tax dollars is Total Vehicle Miles Tracked (VMT) taxation.

Sen. Ken Conrad (D-ND, but then you could have guessed his party affiliation just from the idea) is trying to figure out how to pump more billions out of us to make up for the fact that people are driving more fuel-efficient vehicles, thus lowering the amount of gasoline tax they pay.

“Do we do gas tax?” Conrad asked. “Do we move to some kind of an assessment that is based on how many miles vehicles go, so that we capture revenue from those who are going to be using the roads who aren’t going to be paying any gas tax, or very little, with hybrids and electric cars?”

Wait, I thought using less gas was a good thing. I thought that’s what the micro-managers we call members of Congress wanted us to do. Now here comes Conrad, bitching because we’re doing it. As for those drivers he think “aren’t going to be paying any gas tax, or very little,” let’s just say that someone should introduce the Senator to the real world in which electric cars are rare (because they are impractical for most of us) and hybrids don’t come close to eliminating gasoline consumption. The Toyota Prius, the most fuel-efficient hybrid yet produced, rates about 55 mpg, but plenty of other hybrid models get much less impressive mileage. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s hybrid car fuel economy web site, the 2007 Lexus GS 450h comes in at the bottom of the barrel at 26 mph, worse than what my gasoline-powered Toyota Yaris gets doing all city driving in the middle of the winter. Hybrid SUV mileage is similarly mediocre, and hybrid pick-ups rate so poorly (around 19 mpg) that they shouldn’t even be called “fuel-efficient.”

In other words, all those self-congratulatory hybrid vehicle owners are still using plenty of gasoline and pumping plenty of emissions into Gaia’s giant global lungs.

Besides, isn’t a VMT tax just a second gasoline tax? People who drive more already pay more in federal gas taxes, which currently stand at $0.184 per gallon. Taxing the gas once when we buy it and again when we use it is the worst kind of double taxation imaginable because the same person pays twice, just at different times. God forbid Congress should be honest about their intentions and just double the gas tax.

Even the reasoning behind the VMT is faulty. The Congressional Budget Office claims that a VMT is a more accurate method of taxation for raising funds to cover the cost of highways, but that ignores the fact that most people don’t do all their driving on roadways that are federally built and maintained. Why should someone who drives almost exclusively on surface streets paid for by states or municipalities have to pay the federal government a dime?

But the insanity doesn’t end there:

“Any given driver’s highway use also imposes costs on other users, on nearby nonusers, on the environment, and on the economy in the form of congestion, risk of accidents, noise, emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants that affect local air quality, and dependence on foreign oil,” CBO said.

Thus we get to the real motivation behind the VMT: it’s a way of punishing drivers, of taxing behavior and actions that a few people might consider objectionable. You want to see congestion and noise? Check out the T during rush hour. And don’t be fooled by the fact that the trains are powered by a third rail or overhead wire. The only reason you don’t see any emissions and pollutants there is because the electricity required to power those trains is generated at a great big power plant, most likely burning oil or coal, very far away from the train or from Capitol Hill.

And what about the Big Brother-ishness of tracking how many miles (and where) someone drives? The CBO supposedly has an answer for that objection, too:

CBO did acknowledge that privacy concerns may be a hurdle to implementing a VMT tax because electronic tracking of miles driven might provide too much personal information to the government. However, CBO noted that some have proposed restricting the information that would be transmitted to the government.

Excuse me if I don’t find that reassuring. Any restrictions on availability of information from VMT exist at the whims of legislators and bureaucrats and can be rescinded if they wish. And don’t think that government employees at any level can’t and don’t access all kinds of information the law deems “private.”

Sen. Conrad has to be told in no uncertain terms that a VMT is a lousy idea all around. If he believes so strongly in the need to extract more money from drivers, he might as well place toll booths on all public ways. No more of this nickel-and-diming us in ways you think we won’t notice.

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