Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Miles to Go Before I Pay

Thanks for the Memory to Vodkapundit via The Wheat Rye Guy.

Cross-Posted at Head West, Turn Right.

Yesterday I added my Widow's Mite of opinion to a discussion over at Vodkapundit's Blog regarding a proposal by the state of California to tax people based on the number of miles driven, a proposal inspired (ironically enough) by decreases in gasoline tax revenues caused in turn by an increase in the fuel efficiency of newer vehicles. I not only expressed my misgivings regarding such a concept, and furthermore, my dismay that my own home state of Oregon is experimenting with such a tax. However, after reading an article in the Seattle Times (which one of VP's readers provided) regarding Oregon's experiment with the concept, I am forced to admit that for once Oregon's normally wacky state government may be on the right track. If I may be permitted to explain?

I preface my explanation by saying that in concept, road tolls or a mileage tax like this make more sense to me, and seem far fairer, than a gas tax. This is because tolls and mileage taxes charge the users of roads specifically, and charge them based on how much they use the roads. Those who benefit directly are charged directly, and in direct proportion to the amount of benefit they receive. My objections to, or rather my concerns over, such a mileage tax, have more to do with practical considerations regarding its implementation and unintended consequences that need to be addressed. The Devil is, after all, in the details. The article addressed some of those concerns, and my own reflection on the issue caused a further shift.

My first concern is that if such a tax is implemented, it would be a tax in addition to gas taxes, rather than a replacement. I'm all for re-applying a necessary tax with a more equitable form of taxation, but I'm hesitant to increase taxes unless absolutely necessary. However, the article clearly points out that in the case of Oregon's experiment with the tax, it would be a replacement for the gas tax, not an additional tax.

My second concern has to do with the unintended result such a tax might have of discouraging the use of more fuel efficient vehicles. But upon further reflection, I realized two things. First of all, if the mileage tax is a replacement tax and not in addition to a gas tax, this is not so much of an issue. Secondly, I came to the realization that opposing such a tax based on this objection would be intellectually inconsistent on my part, and here is the reason why:

I don't beleive a tax should intentionally be engineered to specifically encourage or discourage a given behavior. If by engaging in a given behavior individuals create a material burden on the general public, I have no problem with taxing that behavior in order to mitigate that burden. And if such legitimate taxation happens to have the side effect of causing the individual to reconsider the behavior, that's a bonus. But taxing the behavior JUST to discourage it, that smacks of stateism to me. If I am to be consistent, then I cannot oppose a tax simply because implementing it fails to reward GOOD behavior.

My final concern was regarding the practicality of implementing such a tax, particularly for drivers of older cars. The article addresses that as well, stating that if implemented, it would only apply to new vehicles, while older vehicles would still pay a Gas tax.

In conclusion, I still have some concerns regarding the implementation of such a concept. And while the article allayed some of those concerns, it raised others. If all of those concerns can be and are addressed, I believe that such a tax, if implemented AS A REPLACEMENT FOR a gasoline tax, is not so bad an idea.

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