Transportation Costs

Insty links to an article, “Does the gas tax have a future?” Understandably, technology has marched on, and now the regulations and laws intended to fund transportation are producing too little revenue to fund all the little pet projects and sweetheart developer deals that politicians would like to see. (No, I’m not cynical, why do you ask?)

The “miles traveled” – with higher fees for heavier vehicles, though re: sweetheart deals, I’m sure the transpocorps will “negotiate” lower-than-fair fees for their eighteen-wheelers and flatbeds – would work out well. If we trusted the government to only be looking at the odometer and not a GPS-tracking black box. Seriously. We have this old technology, called the “odometer,” that reads out how many miles you’ve traveled, but doesn’t tell anyone where you’ve been. Simply have the miles taxed based on what state the owner’s permanent residence is in for the local taxes, viola, solution, repeal gas taxes entirely and go to the new transportation tax system. And for the people who regularly commute across state lines – well, the states are just going to have to buck up and compete with one another, aren’t they? It isn’t as if people don’t already live in one state and work in another based on other state taxes. If a region would like to impose extra fees on travelers, let them shell out for toll booths. (Toll infrastructure is no doubt very expensive, which is why it’s not a solution for replacing the gas tax. Can you imagine the budgetary carnage if every road needed a toll booth??)

Of course, I don’t really expect any politician to take up this plan, because right now the gas taxes are essentially “invisible” – bundled into the price of gasoline. If you had to pay a tax every six months (or whenever) based on your odometer reading, you’d suddenly become very interested in what the government(s) were doing with that money that they very obviously are taking out of your wallet. And the last thing any politician really wants is his constituents poking their noses into how the government makes its pork sausage. They might start demanding outrageous things like forcing developers to pay for all the road infrastructure improvements needed in an area to accommodate increased demand before building a new subdivision or shopping center! Case in point: a road near me was “proudly expanded by $SUBDIVISION DEVELOPER$” but they only widened the road right in front of the subdivisions. The nearest interstate interchange, which absolutely everyone uses to get anywhere from those subdivisions? Single lanes in each direction, and an impenetrable phalanx of lights. It’s now a commuting nightmare from when schools let out until after rush hour, because that interchange was built to accommodate rural area traffic, not legions of cars from half a dozen new subdivisions. Then another developer built a shopping center…. on the other side of the nightmare interchange from all those new subdivisions. “Attractive nuisance” indeed! The subdivision and shopping developers should have paid to upgrade the interchange as well as the roads in front of the new construction, because all those people don’t just toodle up and down the roads in front of their houses, they’re commuting on the interstate and using all the roads near the local shopping centers, as well. Instead, politicians let the developers foist off the cost of an increasing population onto the people paying taxes while pocketing all the profits from building. (Yup, I live in District 1, also known as the Washington DC metro area. Basically the only place in the country where the housing bust didn’t stop them from building new houses. I presume they’re still making good profit since they haven’t stopped building.)

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