Saturday, April 18, 2009

Deval Patrick wants to end America for Americans

Having a GPS device as a license plate decal would mean being taxed by the mile, fined for parking at will, and stalker police would be able to get away with even more in the current US Police State. When is America going to wake up?

GPS and Gas Tax -- Good and Bad Ideas from the State of Massachusetts


(Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is proposing both a GPS driving tax and a gas tax.)

There are all manner of schemes being proposed to fill the dwindling state and federal coffers, many of which often focus on hitting the wallets of the driving public.

But rare is the state that has two driving-taxation plans which are as simultaneously enlightened and enraging as those proposed in the state of Massachusetts. Both have been promoted by the state's Governor, Deval Patrick.

The first of Patrick's initiatives definitely falls on the troubling side: the Governor is pushing a plan - "controversial" would be putting it mildly - to install Global Positioning System (GPS) chips in vehicle inspection stickers that would be used to tax the vehicle owner for the number of miles they drive.

Notwithstanding the obvious "surveillance state" social implications, Patrick's GPS idea - not new to the ever-energetic minds that propose innovative methods of taxation - seems fraught with technical hurdles and potential loopholes.

Other states and the federal government have floated similar monitor-your-movement taxation plots. But the notion is particularly unsavory coming from the home state of the Boston Tea Party and the "Shot Heard 'Round the World."

Despite the misguided GPS-taxation plan, Patrick also has suggested his state push forward with a driving-taxation strategy. In effect, this is a boiled-down version of what should be central to the new national energy policy: Patrick wants a drastic increase in the state's gasoline tax.

Patrick wants to increase Massachusetts' gasoline tax by 19 cents per gallon, reports the Boston Globe. The plan has of course inspired outrage of comparable proportion to the GPS-tracking taxation plan. But the reality is that taxing the fuel is the most efficient and effective way to both increase driving-related revenues and incentivize energy efficiency.

For the gas-tax proposal, Patrick already has lined up considerable political artillery and has the backing of credible voices of reason.

The sensible arguments for the tax are analogous to those that make the case for a marked increase in the federal fuels tax. For one, estimates from Massachusetts say the poor condition of under-maintained roads costs the average household in the state about $300, or more than twice what the projected hike in the gasoline tax would cost.

The inability of fuel-tax revenues to keep pace with infrastructure-maintenance costs also hits Massachusetts taxpayers with outsized debt payments on long-term bonds required to pay for even baseline maintenance.

But most of all, Patrick's gas-tax proposal makes his state's debate a microcosm of the larger debate about U.S. energy policy. Until fuel prices (including the portion attributable to taxes) rise to a level reflective of that energy's genuine value to society, the nation as a whole will continue to swill gasoline and diesel at the rates that have required ever-increasing levels of dependence on imported oil - and with that, the myriad economic and geopolitical problems that come with reliance on foreign energy sources.

So a restrained shout-out should go to Patrick. His GPS-taxation plan stinks just like all those before it, never mind that the technology to enable it continues to improve and get cheaper. But is the Massachusetts' gas-tax hike indeed the right course? If so, could it once again allow the state to show the way to a more prosperous future?

-- By Bill Visnic, AutoObserver Contributor

Posted by
Philip Reed April 16, 2009, 9:02 AM

1 Comments:

Blogger Kevin Condon said...

There’s another alternative that hasn’t been discussed much (if at all) in the recent gas tax/mileage tax debate. It’s a tax based on vehicle efficiency assessment (EVA). If the VMT is the best option identified by the congressional commission, then EVA is a better alternative using the same criteria the commission used.

EVA is a point-of-sale per-gallon tax based on information already contained in the Vehicle Identification Number – the make, model, year, etc. Using the commission’s criteria, here’s how EVA and VMT compare:

• Will the future revenue stream be sustainable
• Is it applicable to federal, state and local governments
• Is it fair across geographic regions and income groups
• Does it promote efficiency
• Is it politically viable and is implementation easy and affordable

On the first two criteria, I don’t think either approach has a major advantage over the other. But I believe VMT falls short on the last three key criteria in comparison to EVA:

Is it fair across geographic and income groups?
Because the VMT bases the tax on miles driven, it is inherently unfair to rural drivers and long-distance commuters. EVA, on the other hand, is based on vehicle make and model, not miles so It doesn’t penalize rural drivers. And, if I’m correct, average rural income lags the average metropolitan income levels (and if data existed comparing income levels of just vehicle owners in the two areas I would guess the income disparity is even greater, as many low-income urban residents don’t own cars and be excluded from the data, significantly increasing the average metropolitan income, widening the rural-metropolitan income gap. EVA is income neutral.

Does it promote efficiency?
VMT doesn’t discourage the use of gas-guzzlers or encourage the use of efficient vehicles. It may encourage shorter trips but that’s a reduction in consumption, not the efficiency of consumption. Do we really want a rural driver of a Ford Escort or motorbike to pay a higher tax per gallon than the suburban Hummer driver going 3 miles to the mall? EVA, on the other hand, would assess the Escort and Vespa at a lower per-gallon rate than the Hummer.

Is it politically viable and easy/affordable to implement?
Passing a tax that is unfair to rural drivers and long-distance commuters, disappoints small car advocates and privacy advocates (who see VMT as “track-and-tax”) won’t be easy. EVA, by comparison, rewards fuel-efficient vehicles, doesn’t violate privacy (the VIN data is static and already in the system), and treats all drivers –rural and suburban – equitably.
And cost? While both VMT and EVA require POS scanning to capture vehicle information (VIN or odometer) VMT faces the massive task and expense of retrofitting all vehicles with GPS tracking- or odometer-reading equipment. EVA requires just a bar-coded VIN decal on the windshield, easily distributed by existing motor vehicle offices. EVA could even be an opt-in program with non-participating drivers paying the maximum tax and all enrolled vehicles – even that Hummer – paying less, with hybrids and motorcycles paying the least.

Thursday, April 23, 2009 9:09:00 AM  

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