Monday, March 16, 2009

anything to avoid a gas tax

Fred Hiatt, the editor of the Washington Post editorial page, writes one of the dumbest articles I've read in a while:
Raise the gas tax now, by 10 cents from the current 18.4 cents per gallon. Then replace it entirely over the next decade or so with a system that would charge drivers a fee per mile driven.

In this new world, a GPS would be built into every car and truck. It would keep track of where you drove your car, and when, but the data would not be shared beyond the vehicle so privacy would be protected. It could be set to charge more per mile driven for Hummers than for Civics; more during rush hour than in the middle of the night; more for driving on congested bridges than on empty roads.

None of this is as far-fetched or futuristic as it may sound. Anyone who has stuck an E-Z Pass transponder on a windshield has taken a step in this direction. The Netherlands plans to implement a full vehicle-miles-traveled system by 2014, Denmark by 2016. In Holland, there won't even be a car registration fee; if you don't drive your car, you don't pay.

The problem with this idea is that the sophisticated, expensive new technology that he wants built into all new cars doesn't actually offer any advantages over the stopgap solution he wants to phase out yet suffers from various extra disadvantages.

Guess what else would charge a fee per mile driven? A gas tax!

Ya know what would charge more per mile for Hummers than Civics? A gas tax!

What would charge more during rush hour and on congested roads (because of stop and go traffic and time spent idling)? A gas tax!

And guess what else won't charge you if you don't drive? Anyone?

On the other hand, a gas mileage tax system would:
    1) pass an extra cost to taxpayers when they buy a car
    2) implant a device in cars that can be tampered with, allowing the unscrupulous to evade the tax
    3) not address the problem of cars bought before the implantation of the devices
    4) give the government unprecedented information about our private lives and knowledge of our exact whereabouts at all times, which is then subject to loss, theft, and governmental surveillance

In effect, Hiatt's argument is thus: first let's solve the problem, then let's phase out that solution with a more complicated, expensive, and flawed solution that offers little or no extra benefit! What is it with conservatives and the gas tax?

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