A Mileage Tax in the Land of Suburban Sprawl? Not Likely

Posted on December 6, 2013

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Writes Tom Curry for NBC News:  “By driving more fuel-efficient cars and by driving fewer miles than they did back before the 2008-09 recession, Americans are starving federal funding for highways and commuter rail and bus systems across the nation.”

Why, those inconsiderate jerks, with their accursed fuel efficiency!  How dare they!

So, of course, Rep Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore) came up with a solution: Let’s tax cars per mile driven, rather than per gallon of gas purchased (although, for now, he merely wants to double your gas tax)!  The way Blumenauer envisions the future, the more you drive, the more you’ll pay.  In typical bureaucrat style, this is a poorly considered, short-sighted option to bring in revenue.

Who’da thunk that fuel efficiency was a bad thing?  I mean, since the OPEC oil embargo of 1973, the government has hammered the public consciousness concerning  the non-renewable nature of petroleum fuels, of dependence on foreign powers, of the impact of fossil fuels on the environment and our health.  Less fuel burned means a cleaner environment and a longer-lasting supply of energy.  Manufacturers are still being pressed to make cars even more efficient.  Consumers have been admonished to conserve fuel, have been offered incentives to buy hybrid cars – shoot, for a while there we even had a nationwide 55 MPH speed limit for the express purpose of fuel conservation.

So we did all that for 40 years, and now, instead of a pat on the back and “good job, Public, your efforts are saving energy and the environment!” we get this onerous idea.

News flash, bureaucrats:  this is America, land of open roads and sprawling suburbs, few sidewalks or bike trails, and less-than-stellar public transportation options.  Charging Americans per mile driven will have a de facto dampening effect on most people’s travel, because our other options – even just plain ol’ walking – are actually pretty limited in this country.

Can we think of anything more likely to put the brakes on the economy?   Can we think of a stronger disincentive for the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles?  What about freight transportation?  Imagine the impact on the price of everything if truckers also suddenly have to start paying by the mile (they already pay higher fuel taxes than private vehicles, because diesel… which ironically should be cheaper… is taxed at a higher rate than gasoline).

If the per-mile tax ever becomes reality, look for kids to suddenly become even less active than they already are; soccer moms who routinely chauffeur the kids all over to different activities will think twice about how much they are paying just to get the kids there (on top of all the other fees they are already paying).  Look for fewer family outings and less travel, because even driving somewhere on vacation would cost extra.  Look for less dining out, less shopping.  Look for property values to edge downward in suburbia and upward in primo city neighborhoods.

That last bit is not necessarily a good thing.  In the DC metro area, housing is already cheaper and more plentiful  farther from the city, and that results in some of the nation’s longest and most hellish commutes.  Imagine having to pay extra taxes for the wonderful privilege of spending an hour or so crawling along and choking on everyone else’s exhaust twice a day, five days per week.  A mileage tax might make commuters want to live closer to their jobs, but that doesn’t mean they will be financially able to, any more than they are now.  It also won’t make more city housing magically appear.  What it might do is limit more people’s job opportunities just because of the increased cost of their commutes.

So think hard about some other way to raise revenue for transportation infrastructure (like, say, bringing our nation-building efforts home instead of exporting billions to places like Afghanistan?).  America is not ready for a mileage tax.

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