By on July 3, 2014

Big_Brother_Americas_player

You’ve heard this story before: A scorpion asks a frog to carry him across the water.

And you know how it ends, too, I’d guess. It’s a story that has long fascinated me, so a while back I cooked this up:

You and I, standing on a riverbank
Desperately searching for a way to cross
“Take a ride on my back,” I said. “I’ll thank
You not to sting me, lest our lives be lost.”
Halfway across and I’m optimistic
That you’ve transcended your scorpion self
When suddenly there’s a prick and a stick
And that’s never good for a froggy’s health
So sudden we sank, and although you tried
To escape, we were so firmly attached
Both bitter, broken; no wonder we died
With flaws and faults that were perfectly matched

But if I’m honest, I wonder which one
Of us was frog, and which was scorpion.

Naturally, I had a particular woman in mind when I wrote that, but the analogy is true for more than romance; it’s true for those of us who live and work in the United States, particularly if we are inhabitants/inmates of the middle class. We’re the frogs who cross the river of commerce, paddling dutifully in spite of obstacles ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. On our backs, of course, is our government. It always says that it’s trying to help us. Sometimes it even believes it. Its paid apologists in the media and elsewhere will always say that “we are the government”, as if a group of over-privileged mountebanks who don’t even have to use the same healthcare regulations they’ve forced on the rest of us represent the bulk of Americans in any but the most nominal fashion. Still, when the rubber meets the road, they’re on our backs ready to sting us to death the minute we hit deep water.

Here’s the latest idiocy to come out of our pincer-packing passengers: As I reported earlier this morning, the Federal Highway Fund is about to run out of surplus money. It’s funded through a static 18.3 cent per gallon gas tax. Yesterday, the Washington Post published a Wonkblog on the subject.

Before we go any further, notice the subtle framing implied by “Wonkblog”. The phrase “policy wonk” implies someone who is smarter than you or I might be. It’s typically applied to completely charmless would-be tyrants like Michael Dukakis, in order to suggest that they, and only they, are intellectually competent enough to determine what’s best for the rest of us. “Wonkblog”, therefore, implies that you’ll be reading some serious thought about an issue, instead of the type of ignorant pandering to the bleating, inbred electorate the use of which each party believes is limited to its opposition.

Alright then. Let’s check out the serious thought. The piece is entitled “Why we need to raise the gas tax — and then get rid of it.” First off, let me offer this:

To people who write for the Post, the government is “we”. To most Americans nowadays, the government is “them”. Fifty years from now, when our grandchildren are burying the bodies that will have been piled up as a result of that simple difference, it might be useful to remember how often it appeared in print in our day. The Post’s Emily Badger interviews a Democratic congressman from Oregon and fails utterly to badger said congressman, instead giving him a platform to gush about his plans to replace the gas tax. Let’s hear first about why said tax needs to be replaced:

The growth in vehicle miles traveled has actually declined for nine consecutive years. The increase in fuel efficiency has been pretty dramatic. And then we’ve got highway construction costs that have not been declining.

Emily lets this go, but I’m not inclined to. If we’re traveling less often — because we’re experiencing the Lowered Expectations lifestyle of the recession without end — why haven’t highway construction costs declined? If we are using the roads less, why haven’t we seen a corresponding decrease in repair costs? There could be reasons for it, ranging from the deferred bridge maintenance about which we’re always hearing to an increase in costs for petroleum-based paving materials, but that’s less important than the fact that Emily doesn’t question it. Of course, you can see her thinking, the government’s cost of doing anything will always stay the same, or increase. I’m okay with this.

We have to make a transition into something that is use-based… With greater fuel efficiency, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric cars, hyper-efficient diesel, people who are putting the same amount of wear and tear on roads and occupying space and creating congestion have wildly different payments that they make through the fuel tax.

In other words: We — and this time it is the “we” of the government — set up a variety of incentives to discourage low-efficiency freeway usage, from CAFE from blocking the Keystone XL, and people responded the way we hoped they would, and now we need to punish them for that. You, the consumer, invested in expensive technologies from the Prius Plug-In to the Tesla Model S to reduce our energy dependence, believing that you would be rewarded for doing so in lower fuel costs, and now that has to be taken away from you, because highway costs mysteriously stay the same when highway usage drops.

Having set up the pitch with minimal effort, Ms. Badger lets Rep. Bluemenauer start gloating about his proposed and preferred replacement: use tax.

We started in Oregon with a monitoring process. People are interested, it’s technically possible, and it changes driving behavior. When people were aware that they were being charged per mile – and they were aware of the miles that they drove – they drove less.

But one of the elements that came out of the first pilot study was that people were a little uncomfortable with monitoring where they went. It’s ironic that people are self-conscious about that, because with a smartphone, The Man knows where they are. These are people who are tweeting and posting pictures. And we are transforming automobiles into computers on wheels that are keeping track of this stuff anyway.

It’s ironic that women who wear short dresses are self-conscious about being long-lens observed by masturbating perverts. Because those women are tweeting and posting pictures, and they’re standing beneath the Global Hawks anyway. Remember that: if your neighbor has the nerve to Tweet his location once in a while, he’s asking for it. “It” in this case being government surveillance. And you are too, because you’re part of the “people” who like to Tweet.

(Clip NSFW for language)

Let’s hear more about what they did to calm the fears of “you people”:

we gave people a choice, because we really don’t care where they go. We care how far they go. So people could choose – they could do it with an app for a smartphone, they could use an on-board navigation system. They could do it the old-fashioned way when they go for an annual inspection and just have an odometer reading. Or you could pay a big fat, flat fee.

Well, there you go. It’s not exactly decent — imagine a hotel offering discounts for people who would allow cameras in the room — but it allows people to pay extra for privacy after a fashion. Let’s hear more about what we’re going to do to keep going in that direction.

According to GM and Verizon, the technology is there to make this transition. It could be done in months. They’re ready to go. The public’s not yet ready to go.

What transition is this? The transition where you start monitoring everybody’s movements despite what you just said about Oregon’s program? Also, notice that he asked “GM” and “Verizon”. That’s what happens when you bail out one industry and free another from anything that looks like the post-AT&T shackles put there by wiser men: you get toady-corps.

So we need to have a fuel tax increase to be able to have a robust six-year reauthorization, and we need another year or two or three of experimenting, raising the comfort level, giving people choices.

So we’re going to penalize the people who paid to reduce their consumption, as well as everyone else, and then we’re going to start selling the idea of submitting to monitoring. But wait, there’s more, because this guy literally cannot stop himself from frothing at the mouth at the possibilities.

The other thing that is so powerful about the VMT technology

And look: it has a name.

is that we’ll

Not “we’d”, which means “we could”. “We’ll”, which means “we will”.

be able to help drivers do a lot more than just conveniently pay for their road use. The same technological platform will enable people to get real-time traffic information. The seamless payment that’s debited to an account to pay for road use could also be used to pay for a transit ticket, or an Amtrak ticket, or an application they can use to pay for parking.

It’d be an integrated system. It’s very likely that this would be an on-board navigation system. The car companies are salivating at the prospect of doing this. There are people who would pay to be a part of it.

And there are people who will pay to have a woman squat over them and piss into their mouth. I know there are people like this because I’ve met multiple women who pay their rent doing it. But if you try to piss into my mouth then, as one of my favorite writers would say, you better come at me strong because I will take you down.

And now, at long last, we arrive at the Wagnerian moment where this guy just lets his freak flag fly and metaphorically ejaculates all over the face of the kneeling American motorist:

If all we did was set this up to collect the road fee, that’s actually a more expensive way to collect the fee. The gas tax is actually a very inexpensive tax to collect. But if we are able to have a platform that does all these other things, to share the costs, and give people a richer transportation experience, I think people will voluntarily make that transition.

We’re missing all the air quotes, I think, let’s put them back in:

I “think” people will “voluntarily” make that “transition”

When you read “voluntarily” in modern wonk-speak, you can take that to mean “Any amount of resistance short of facing down the Bureau of Land Management with the local redneck militia,” and that’s what it means here as well. The motorists of America will be given a single option: GPS-based usage tracking tied to a central payment account that will also be debited for parking and traffic tickets. It’s perfectly easy to imagine a speed camera just sitting by the site of the road dinging every motorist who goes by at 1mph over the limit a nice, round five hundred bucks. And why not?

Naturally, the same government that manages to lose all the incriminating IRS emails will keep solid-gold-permanent records of your travels until the end of time. If they do it with the justly-reviled public-private partnership, those records will be sold to Equifax and your insurance company as well. With your travel and your Carnivore records, the government knows exactly who and what you are. In real time, they’ll be able to understand your entire life. Imagine the day when driving to an oncology clinic results in a sit-down with your company’s HR representative to discuss your future with the company. Or the day when your employer can simply buy a list of your whereabouts sorted to its particular interest. Or the day when parking your car outside a gun store every Sunday and walking across the street for ice cream results in the ATF visiting your house to discuss your gun-nut tendencies. Or the day when driving through known drug-sales areas results in a SWAT team tossing a flashbang into your child’s crib.

“Oh, Jack, you teatard anarchist commie libertarian,” you’re sighing. “How else are they supposed to address the Highway Fund problem?” Well, I would suggest that destroying the last vestiges of privacy and liberty in this country are not any less meaningful than keeping up the pace of road construction. I would also suggest that it’s not my job to come up with ideas as to how the government can easily accomplish its goals without trampling its citizens underfoot. But since you asked, I’ll come up with one: A ten percent tariff on cheap goods imported from China would add 50% to the existing Highway Fund tax level, enough to address all concerns for the foreseeable future.

The amateur and professional economists on TTAC will no doubt speak at length about how this would disturb the economy. Well, the economy’s disturbed already, ain’t you noticed. And the United States Government has the iron-clad Constitutional authority to levy a tariff. Lastly, if you value the nebulous business interests that are served by Chinese trade over the actual freedom of actual American citizens, you’ve swallowed a lot of Kool-Aid from your one-percenter superiors.

Alternately, the gas tax could simply be doubled. It would be frustrating, and offensive, and it would place a further hardship on people who are already under the heel of transport costs, but it would be honest. And if it causes the entire country to switch to gasoline-free transportation, freeing us from bondage to the Middle East and the indignities of commodities traders? Well, that’s a nice problem for a country, or a scorpion, to have, isn’t it?

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149 Comments on “No Fixed Abode: You did what they asked, and now you’re going to pay....”


  • avatar
    BMWnut

    Good writing, but at about the halfway mark I lost the plot.

    • 0 avatar
      bigdaddyp

      Dafuq did I just read? If agree with Jack, nobody is going to pee in mouth, right?
      I think this trend of the over reaching government, monitoring everything we the people do is very dangerous. While Jack might have gone a little over the top but I find his points to be valid. Count me out.

  • avatar
    PonchoIndian

    this is the sort of law that can only be written by those who are able to expense all of their transportation costs.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      No, this is the sort of law passed by people who think the government has unrestricted powers and once they’re in office, they can pass any law they want. A hundred years ago, this Oregon congressman would have been hounded out of office for suggesting this “solution”.

  • avatar

    Thank you. Either raise the gas tax or do the simple, easy solution he admits will be most effective: get an annual reading of the odometer. Everything else is a giant leap over the line.

    • 0 avatar
      Mr. K

      I can fake a GM odometer reading to whatever I want it to be. Likely people in the Toyota or Nissan or BMW dealer world can do the same to their makes as well.

      Too much potential for abuse.

      After all how will we insure accurate mileage if the cluster is replaced? I have been asked to adjust mileage and refused; I’m sure that many of my techs have also been asked, and most refused. It’s likely, however, that one or two had lapses in honesty.

      • 0 avatar
        matador

        Bingo. This is the issue with the Odometer tax.

        I drive two cars mostly- a 2001 Audi A6 and a 1995 Buick LeSabre. The Audi cluster could be hard to fudge, but the Buick one would be easy.

        Analogue Odometer- Cluster Swap anyone?

        Plus, I can now get that tachometer!

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Once there is annual reporting as part of registration renewal, there is a record of pattern of usage. Chances are, any state with annual or semi-annual smog inspections already has such a record, so altering the odometer in any meaningful way will be noticed. Small changes for small savings, with stiff fines for the owners and technicians, won’t cover the costs, let alone justify the risks.

        • 0 avatar
          Mr. K

          Lorenzo;

          Lets just say I’ve been in this business a while now. I’ve seen quite a lot and it’s a common ploy here in Pennsylvania to, through various measures, report less the 5,000 miles a year to get an emissions exemption to keep that old clunker on the road.

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            I suspect the clunker owners are avoiding some pretty large bills by getting around that requirement. I am not sure I blame them.

        • 0 avatar
          MBella

          People do it just to avoid a few thousand dollars of excess mileage fees on their lease turn ins. They will definitely do it to avoid large tax bills.

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            How many miles would you have to do each year to have a “few thousand dollars” in a mileage tax?

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            He may be talking about another country LC, but for those who are interested:

            In the US:

            PADOT: 41 cents
            USDOT: 18 cents
            —————
            12000/25mpg = 480g * 68 cents = $326
            20000/25mpg = 800g * 68 cents = $472.
            20000/15mpg = 1333g * 68 cents = $906.

            This could add up fast for fleets, and this in addition to the 33%+ they are already stealing (under 89K single filer). That’s probably why most folks are irritated with what comes out to being a $326-472 auto tax for most people (which is nothing in the grand scheme of things).

            http://www.wtae.com/news/why-are-gas-prices-so-high-in-pennsylvania/25646022#!7ZqGH

      • 0 avatar
        Landcrusher

        I doubt many people would bother faking an odometer over a few hundred dollars taxes. OTOH, income and profit taxes must not be very popular with you at all!

        • 0 avatar
          matador

          I’d do it. I am not paying that type of tax without a fight! I replaced a cluster in an Impala once (Original died)- it’s only a 1 hour job.

          Let’s see… One hour or almost $400 in taxes. That’s a tough one!

          Or, I could just drive my old pickup that doesn’t have a working odometer to begin with!

          ———————-

          28 Cars is right. That’s almost $300-$400 PER CAR. I frequently drive three vehicles (My Box Van is used so little I wouldn’t need to fudge it).

          $300 x 3 vehicles = $900-$1200 in vehicle taxes. That’s a heck of a lot of money!

          Where’s my screwdriver!

          ————————————-

          I’m fine with taxes for useful things. When I see people paying for a pizza with Food Stamps and driving a 328i, I think we may have a problem!

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @matador

            It has crossed my mind in the past to investigate how the newer digital odos work and see if there would be a way to add a piece of hardware or software to them to “switch” them on and off. I know in the early 2000s GM trucks there was some sort of “black box” (which I was told under the dr seat) in which the odo could be reprogrammed by the dealer.

            “When I see people paying for a pizza with Food Stamps and driving a 328i, I think we may have a problem!”

            Oh we just don’t have a problem, we are completely f***ed by design.

          • 0 avatar
            matador

            I don’t know about the black box thing. But, I can tell you that on a 2000 Chevrolet Impala, I swapped clusters for the one with the tachometer and other cool gauges (It’s actually a Monte Carlo cluster with Oil Pressure, Volt Gauge,…) Point being- that cluster wasn’t even offered on the 2000 Impala.

            The mileage from the Monte Carlo cluster is what shows up. So, it’s stored in the cluster. Now, as for turning the odometer off, that would be even cooler. Why bother swapping clusters if you can just tell it to “Go Away”?

            ———————

            I was being nice with the pizza thing. That woman is this nation’s problem. FDR was right- give her money- in exchange for work.

            People like her really tick me off. They should either get a job or leave this nation. The rest of us have work to do.

  • avatar
    mechimike

    Good opinion piece, you make some valid points about privacy- the Right that was so intuitively obvious to those who wrote and approved the Constitution that they didn’t even see fit to mention it specifically.

    I’m not as diametrically opposed to a per-mile tax versus a per-gallon tax, but I’d do it very simply, with an annual odometer reporting- say, on your normal tax bill. That’d probably be easier and cheaper to implement than even the gas tax. Levy some hefty fine that makes it unlikely that people will cheat.

    Or, you know, just stick with the gas tax.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    It will be interesting to see what further loss of privacy Americans allow. Personally, I am shocked by the apathetic response most have had to learning the extent of spying on them the NSA commits daily. I am dismayed that it takes an extra hour to fly now, so everyone can take off their jewelry and shoes and be photographed in the nude by special cameras every time they fly. More than anything, I am surprised by all the personal details that (mostly) young people post willingly online.

    Personally, I won’t even let Progressive spy on me with that snapshot program they have. Maybe that’s just me.

    • 0 avatar
      Mr. K

      VoGo said:

      “It will be interesting to see what further loss of privacy Americans allow. Personally, I am shocked by the apathetic response most have had to learning the extent of spying on them the NSA commits daily.”

      You simpleton! Don’t you know those A-rabs and Moosloms will kill us all and impose Sharia upon those dhimmi left alive.

      Yeah yeah that Franklin guy might have said those who will sacrifice precious freedom for ephemeral security or words to that effect, but he liked the French!

      And as I reread this post I see it coming uncomfortably close to the line I set out for Jack.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I fly pretty much every week, sometimes more than once. I haven’t had to take anything off in nearly a year, nor have I had to go through the pee-pee scanner. It’s called TSA PreCheck, and even if you are not a frequent flyer you can still sign up for it, go through a simple background check, and go through security like it is Sept. 10, 2001.

      I just don’t buy into the whole “Government can do no right” meme that is so prevalent in this country. I would like good roads, and I am more than willing to pay for them. So up the darned taxes, and/or make everything a toll road, I don’t care. Just fix it. I’d like to see European levels of taxation, then there would be fewer rolling ranch homes getting in my way on the fun roads in the summer around here, AND the roads would be a lot smoother.

      I think Jack has his tinfoil hat on a too tight on this one.

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        The problem comes from the assumption that giving them more money means the roads will improve. The track record of the government using money for it’s intended purpose is very poor.

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          God damned Tom Corbett and the PA state government, raising PennDOT fees in the name of road construction and bridge repairs that aren’t even happening…

      • 0 avatar
        Landcrusher

        I think the meme is that government hasn’t done much right lately. Tea party types aren’t the anti government extremists that some make them out to be. They appear that way because the government has truly gotten out of hand. No one really knows all the regs of many of the larger departments including those in the departments. The FAA , IRS, and EPA are examples. New bills can’t seem to pass without being thousand page documents full of Easter eggs.

        It’s the size that creates a lot of the problems. If it were smaller, it would be more manageable and transparent. Proposed laws would have fewer inscrutable flaws by necessity.

        • 0 avatar
          matador

          I do computer recycling as one of my jobs. The state DEQ couldn’t even tell me the applicable laws!

          They basically told me that I was on my own to figure out what the laws mean.

          Gov’t is too large and complicated (I’m conservative in nature). I think that Gov’t intervention is necessary for some things, but feel that the government I elect isn’t looking out for my best interest- or really, anybody’s best interest.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I have to disagree, oil drives growth. No matter what comes out of Washington, there has been little growth the past five years and now we may be actually in negative growth territory. Doubling retail fuel prices over the already inflated values will further doom the already challenged economy.

  • avatar
    69firebird

    How about the idiots in congress that pretend to represent us, stop shoveling tons of our money to asshats to blow each other up and use those millions to pave some f****** roads.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      If you’re talking about foreign aid, it’s a drop in the bucket. I recently saw an interesting graphic, with the percentage of the budget people THINK goes to foreign aid: 22%. The percentage people think it should be: 11%. The actual percentage of the federal budget that goes to foreign aid: 1%.

      It’s still a large number, about equal to gas tax collections, but eliminating foreign aid would end famine relief, medical care and disease prevention programs for the poorest countries, the bulk of what foreign aid is used for. Only about $5 billion is used for military aid, most countries buy weapons from our military contractors, and $5 billion won’t help the highway trust fund.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        Thank you for adding sanity today, Lorenzo

      • 0 avatar
        darkwing

        There are a few common misconceptions at work here:

        - It’s a drop in the bucket: when it’s time to tighten the belt, nothing should be sacred, and every bit helps. A billion here, a billion there, and suddenly we’re talking real money. (Don’t forget that, due to ridiculous accounting rules, that 1% is “cut” if it doesn’t grow 7% per year.)

        - It ain’t my bucket: this one speaks for itself.

        - It’s for doing good: not necessarily. The money’s funding organizations tasked with doing good. The difference between the two can be vast. (And usually is, if the UN’s within earshot.) Besides, this is a huge moral hazard that enables the whole enterprise.

      • 0 avatar
        jpolicke

        Those countries are buying from our contractors via the Foreign Military Sales act. The US arranges the sale, provides contract admin and credit. We have no way of knowing how much of that credit is forgiven down the road.

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        It’s always funny to me when fighting famine and providing healthcare is always such a unanimously excepted thing when it’s done in other countries, but you’re a socialist communist jihadist if you suggest that here. In our bankrupt country, I don’t support any foreign aid. Why should any money go elsewhere when our country can’t even fix it’s own simple problems?

        There is also plenty also enough to cut out of the military budget to repave all our roads in gold. Do we really need the capability to destroy the world more than 2-3 times?

        • 0 avatar
          chuckrs

          MBella – you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you. The trick is figuring out the necessary deterrent to discourage that interest. Our land based ICBMs are being un-MIRV’ed, the admin is canceling production of the only cruise missile we have and the last two administrations have beaten our armed forces like a rented mule. The current guy has been called the man who broke the Middle East – but there have never been any threats to the US proper from there! Build the XL pipeline, frack and drill and disrupt the money flow to our main enemies, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Defensive war by other means.
          As an alternative approach to our broken infrastructure, were FDR President, we might expect something along the lines of the WPA, the CCC and rural electrification program. You want your welfare, work for it. We’ll never run out of necessary infrastructure work and gainful employment might ‘take’ on a permanent basis for many people who currently have no hope or expectation of anything besides the dole. The progressives should love this,as they will still be able to micromanage people’s lives just like they do now with said dole.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            @chuckrs – “The trick is figuring out the necessary deterrent to discourage that interest.”

            M.A.D. is a brilliant deterrent.

            Cockroaches are excited about the implementation of that doctrine.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            America always gets exactly what it deserves; because we vote for it!

            What we have today is what the majority voted for. Not just once, but twice.

            Majority rules.

            The rest of us just have to suck it up and deal with it.

  • avatar
    319583076

    man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. – Rousseau

    The highest achievement a man can attain is to become the author of his own unbecoming. Along the lines of formlessness to form, then form to formlessness, mastery of life implies disentanglement from the becoming, i.e. – the formlessness to form, which is the summation and/or sequential product of whatever gets in his way during the brownian motion that occurs between birth and death.

    • 0 avatar
      brenschluss

      That perspective does change a bit the meaning of “becoming your own man.” I’d say for the better, but I don’t think everyone will agree with you. For some, those external forces are all they’ve got propelling them, and they don’t seem to mind.

  • avatar
    taxman100

    How did the federal government fund themselves prior to the income tax? Almost entirely with tariffs, customs, and duty fees. You have to starve the beast, else it will eat your young.

    The 1910′s was a terrible decade for this country, looking back. We got the income tax, gave control of our money to a private bank (The Federal Reserve), went to direct election of U.S. Senators (rather than being appointed by state legislators), and last but not least, World War I.

    The last seven years appear to be a reenactment of that decade – new taxes like this crazy monitoring fee, bailouts of crony capitalist corporations, an Imperial Presidency, and getting involved in multiple wars in the Middle East.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      You do realize that our involvement in multiple wars in the Middle East pre-dates the current administration, right?

    • 0 avatar
      OneAlpha

      You forgot the Nineteenth Amendment.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        That was ratified in 1920. The real damage was in 1913, when we got the income tax, the Federal Reserve, and direct election of Senators. The last one changed senators from agents of the states into posturing national party prima donnas and potential presidential candidates. Before that, governors with executive experience were the main candidates, with a smattering of generals and war heroes.

    • 0 avatar
      Astigmatism

      The miserable performance of the American economy vis-a-vis the rest of the world for the duration of the 20th century shows the utterly catastrophic effect that the income tax and the Federal Reserve have had on our country.

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        Yes, it was the income tax that promoted the economy. It had nothing to do with Europe and Asia’s industries being destroyed during two world wars.

      • 0 avatar
        philipwitak

        @astigmatism – curious to know which specific 20th century data has led you to conclude that the income tax and the Federal Reserve have had an”…utterly catastrophic effect…on our country.”

        please elaborate.

        thanks

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    It’s amazing how few people see through the desire for gps tracking by government. They obviously don’t need it for anything they would admit to, but they are going to keep trying to get it because it opens up so many possible ways to tax and “incentivize” behaviors.

    Tired of the hoi polloi visiting the Washington Mall in summer? Congestion fee!

    Need to appear concerned about safety? Automatic Speeding tickets!

    Want a favor from a young lady? Have her fees disappear!

    Need election funds? Reduced fees for a new type of crappy vehicle you would never buy otherwise sounds like a great way to loosen the wallets at the local car company!

    Tired of that nuisance reporter following you? Shut down his car by blocking his GPS.

    Simple is almost always better with government.

    • 0 avatar
      cpthaddock

      Don’t forget to thank insurance companies for all of their efforts to normalize the fabulous concept of opt-in tracking.

      With some reluctance, I recognize that the London congestion charges, for example, have averted what was becoming a facsimile of third world gridlock from coming to full fruition.

      “Automatic speeding tickets” – I for one remain absolutely livid about AZ wack-basket political class taking away our fabulous speeding cameras. Not only did it eliminate subjective bias (read up on lowlife scumbag Joe Arpaio and you’ll discover the huge scale of THAT problem), it put police officers to much more effective use and, crucially, the nice people from the ADOT even PUT UP SIGNS TO WARN US THERE WAS A SPEED CAMERA JUST AHEAD. What more could we possibly have asked for? How about safer streets … as someone who covered 500 miles a week through the Phoenix freeway system, it was VERY apparent.

      Sadly most of our (government & corporate & media) overlords “solutions” require a very high dose of skepticism from us, but we still need to remain open to positive solutions lest we become utterly dysfunctional … wait …

      • 0 avatar
        Landcrusher

        I don’t have a problem with insurance companies offering a tracking discount so long as it doesn’t become a virtual mandate due to price difference or lack of other plans. AFAIK, the data they are after is more about how you drive than where you drive.

        And one more thing, I am all about innovation, but let’s be honest who is getting value from the innovation. It’s not the citizens.

  • avatar
    Carilloskis

    I know that I deffinatly dont want to be tracked by big brother, Odometer readings would be the best cause everyone gets charged on how far they drive. It would even benifit people like me who drive off road alot. I get whorse millage with the raptor in off road mode or 4×4 crusing through the desert usually 5-8MPGs worse but if my taxes are charged by the mile my fuel cost would go down, as I would be treated as if I bought less fuel for my trip than I had. Is it far that I pay taxes to they Highway fund when i do very little in the way of highway driving, No its not but im not willing to install a traker on my truck that says when im using highways or forrest service/BLM roads.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    The Baruth rant – epic. People for the most part are lemmings and will go with what ever is easiest in other words: the path of least resistance.
    That is why a system like this would fly.

    2 choices would make the most sense. The best option to appease the “climate change” camp and the “gotta stop being dependent on rag-head oil” camp is to raise fuel taxes.

    The better option if law makers actually care about miles used and wear and tear on transportation infrastructure would be a mileage and weight class based fee at the time of vehicle registration.
    If you chose to commute to work in a MaxCumStroke diesel HD that gets 8 mpg then your annual registration fee will be higher than the bicycle riding Prius owner.
    I’m sure that my comment will raise the ire of BigTrucks but the alternative is worse.
    Just stick a GPS up my ass at birth and be done with it.

  • avatar

    [Begin tinfoil hat]
    Party’s already over.

    Here’s the thing: Realtime GPS monitoring and correlation is already a solved problem. Probably 99% of us carry a phone with a GPS receiver “For Enhanced 911 purposes”. Even if we don’t, anyone with a cell phone is trackable using simple triangulation from cell signals. A smartphone just makes this all the more trivial and the “firehose” of data about you all the more rich.

    Okay, so let’s say you ditch your cell, ditch your car, and just walk around incognito. Anything short of ‘minority report’ and you should be suitably anonymous, right?

    Er, no.

    https://www.eyelock.com/index.php/products/hbox. Technology’s already there to get you by your Irises from 50 feet (or more) away. It’s not great in sunlight or (obviously) if you’re wearing sunglasses, but note that all banks are requiring you to remove any obstructions of your face before entry. More places will probably start requiring that.
    [/tinfoil hat]

    For my part, I have a 1995 chevy pickup that has doesn’t even have OBD II. I got the truck by coincidence, but reading some of this crap, I’m glad to have it.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      But it still has a PCM! You’re vulnerable to EMPs!

      • 0 avatar

        Believe it or not, I’ve considered that. A Carb’d SBC and a manual tranny is probably the ultimate in “prepper” gear. Maybe someday :D

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          Keep er oiled and bagged in the back shed just in case.

          Although I can hardly say I’m a “prepper” I happen to be well stocked with rudimentary engine technology should the need arise.

    • 0 avatar
      This Is Dawg

      From the post: “Or the day when your employer can simply buy a list of your whereabouts sorted to its particular interest. Or the day when parking your car outside a gun store every Sunday and walking across the street for ice cream results in the ATF visiting your house to discuss your gun-nut tendencies.”

      I could easily see cops getting a version of this within 5 years. What cop would resist a device that tells them where every car on the road is coming from? Set it to “Bars or Liquor Stores” every weekend and double your precinct’s income.

      Not cool.

    • 0 avatar
      Tinker

      Um, I don’t own a cellphone, my wife keeps hers turned off until she wants to make a call. I wear sunglasses EVERY time I leave the house (I have a cataract growing on my “good” eye) and I haven’t been to the bank in 5 years. So, I’m good right?

      Can I get a billet aluminum hat?

  • avatar
    Eggshen2013

    I am so mad about this I could spit!
    I guess I would not mind an increase in the fuel tax if there was some way to ensure the money would actually be spent on highway maintenance and construction.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Ah, but that’s the problem. There’s a backlog of bridge/highway work that no gas tax increase can cover because inflation made it not only inadequate, but so much has been siphoned to “special programs”. In 2007 the Transportation Secretary informed Congress that only 30% of the gas tax went to highway maintenance and repair, the rest went into those special programs. The very people in Congress who created those special programs are now having to deal with a bankrupt highway trust fund. You can bet their solution has to be more taxes.

  • avatar
    Mr. K

    I don’t care to hear politics here, but if you must, the reason that the Congress and just about anyone who works directly for the federal (and likely state and local) government is not obligated to buy health insurance on the exchange or elsewhere is because they already have health insurance.

    Anyone who has a qualifying plan from whatever source – private plan from your local agent, plan from your employer, medicare for the older folks, or your spouses plan – is already covered and does not have to buy something they already have.

    The IRS e-mails were lost due to antiquated IT systems and a hard drive failure long before the investigation started; BTW we don’t hear but more liberal groups then conservative groups were subject to IRS scrutiny in granting tax exempt status.

    I believe the question that should be asked at the IRS is why there isn’t greater scrutiny of applications for tax exempt status from ANY group. It’s our money being given away.

    I could go on Jack.

    You drive better then I will ever drive, you have forgotten more about Porsches then I will ever know.

    Which of us knows more about politics is a matter of opinion – clearly I know I know much more then you just as strongly as you likely believe you know more then I. Lets leave it at our preferred politics blog please.

    FWIW I agree with you about the desirability of mileage based systems dependent upon GPS technologies. Your hinting about costs of construction seems to be a way to get the number of words you need for the editorial.

    Tax by the gallon seemed to work fine – put a meter on the charging stations or just charge a flat fee to electric/hybrid, fuel cell, and whatever other alternatives are on the road in the future.

    Hell, assume 8,000 miles a year charge everyone a fee based upon vehicle weight and have a lower tax at the pump/meter. I have no idea how to measure hydrogen use with respect for privacy, but I bet there will be a system developed if there is demand.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I’m against the IRS investigating “liberal” groups as much as I’m against them investigating “conservative” groups.

      My three predecessors in this job were actual conservatives but I’m pretty far from that.

      • 0 avatar
        Mr. K

        So you are in favor of the IRS granting tax exempt status to anyone who asks for it?

        Come on! A political group can’t be granted tax exempt status, that the law – yeah i know I’m overly simplifying it, but that’s what it comes down to and that what the investigations of both liberal groups and conservative groups was all about.

      • 0 avatar
        fvfvsix

        Yeah, but I’m liking the libertarian streak I’m seeing.

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      Just for the record, the IRS emails were lost shortly after the first inquiry by a member of congress on behalf of some of his constituents. IIRC, seven people involved, either in the local office or upstream, had failures within a few days off that first letter.

      It’s really strange how little press that got.

    • 0 avatar
      philipwitak

      quoting a portion of mr. k’s response: “The IRS e-mails were lost due to antiquated IT systems and a hard drive failure long before the investigation started…”

      moreover, the author’s bold assertion that these irs e-mails were and/or are “incriminating” is not in any way substantiated by fact.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        This might be true, but data just doesn’t get “lost”. The Iron Mountain co. exists for a reason. Banks are known for running antiquated software and in some case systems (i.e. many ATMs were running OS/2 until a few years ago). Banks never seem to lose any relevant information do they?

  • avatar
    jaron

    Absolutely agree. While I enjoyed the writing, for this particular piece I wish the language was toned down so it would be appropriate to forward at work.

    The gas tax gives the illusion of “user pays.” However, the actual damage to roads is proportional to the fourth power of vehicle weight, which means that trucks do not pay their fair share. VMT further decouples payment from vehicle weight, even more than gas tax does.

    There are arguments, possibly with some merit, for subsidizing shipping by truck. However, the current practice leads to more trucking compared to freight rail, and therefore more road wear.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      This. I don’t get why with the massive trains run in the US, we don’t ship more by rail. It is a way better way to ship cargo. Trucks should only by used to get things from the local depot to their final destination.

      • 0 avatar
        Steve65

        I’ve seen comments about our rail system already being at 110% capacity. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of that, but it’s not as simple as “run more trains”.

        Wasn’t there a story here a few weeks ago about new cars piling up in holding lots, waiting for rail capacity to open up so they could be shipped?

  • avatar
    danio3834

    So to account for electric cars, do we add an excise tax to the purchase? To charging stations? To electricity? Keep giving them a free ride?

    • 0 avatar
      cpthaddock

      Supplement with a tire tax component? We already, rightly, pay a disposal fee.

      • 0 avatar
        Steve65

        Tire tax seems simple, but has the disadvantage of needing to be paid in one big chunk. A quick back of the envelope estimate suggests it would have doubled the price of the last set of tires I bought.

        Taxing the charging would do a better job of evening out the payment rate, and accurately indexing it to real-time usage. It does leave the problem of allocating the tax based on vehicle weight. As was already pointed out, the heavier the vehicle gets, the steeper the curve gets of the damage it does to the roadways.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Get rid of the gas tax; CAFE is always working against it.

    Say NO to electronic tracking and OBD-III.

    Road tax should be: GVWR x Annual miles x Rate. This would work for any vehicle, including those awful tax-evading EVs.

    Your insurance company and inspection station already know your annual miles.

    • 0 avatar
      Mr. K

      SCE to AUX said:

      ‘Your insurance company and inspection station already know your annual miles.’

      They know what I report, I’ll grant you that.

    • 0 avatar
      jpolicke

      You do realize that BTRS would be paying the same rate for his SRT that you are..allowing for the weight difference of course.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        Sure, the roads and bridges don’t care how much gas his SRT burns, and neither do I. Weight and miles do the damage to the infrastructure, not MPG.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      My insurance company only asks 7500/year, over/under?

      My truck is never and will never be inspected unless I move to another state.

    • 0 avatar
      TheyBeRollin

      What is this “inspection station” you speak of? I do report my mileage to my insurance company, but that’s to keep my rates low (under 7500 miles a year). Even in CA they didn’t care what my mileage was, they just cared that every two years I could pass a smog check (which even then was complete overkill).

      The vast majority of the US (by area) doesn’t have smog checks and inspections.

      • 0 avatar
        dtremit

        A bit of quick searching suggests that CA does collect odometer readings as part of routine smog checks — probably just not something they had any reason to mention.

        In terms of passenger car registrations, Census data suggests about 35% of passenger vehicles are subject to safety inspections annually. States with either selective or universal emissions tests make up an additional 44% of registered passenger cars — though some only inspect cars in dense areas.

        That 79% could be brought up to 90% of all registered cars with only five additional states — FL, MI, MN, WI, and TN.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The gas tax is like automatic payroll deductions. Imagine the outcry if people had to write paper checks for every tax they paid.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Good point. The total state, local, and federal gas taxes in California are 71.3 cents per gallon. On a 15 gallon fillup, the tax is over ten bucks. Imagine if that were displayed on the pump! Imagine if you had to pay the tax portion
      separately, in cash, like the VAT!

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    I agree with pretty much everything except the 50 year timeline to mass graves.

  • avatar
    fozone

    The problem is an unfortunate lack of maturity on the part of the populace — no one wants to pay for anything. You mention increasing the gas tax, and at least 50% of the country heads for the fainting couch. This is absurd, and will lead to ‘innovations’ like GPS tracking.

    Increase the gas tax. It wasn’t pegged to inflation when it was created, and it should have been.

    And Jack… infrastructure degrades, even if it isn’t being used.

    The largest building between Dallas and LA (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fontainebleau_Resort_Las_Vegas) was ~ 75% completed when they ran out of money in 2008.

    It has been lying vacant for 5 years. Every year that it isn’t used, it gets 10% LESS completed, because the elements are taking their toll. It is considered a tear-down now, because just finishing it would cost more than the initial build. Even in a place with no rain or freezing temps. Imagine what pavement goes through in Ohio…. yikes!

    • 0 avatar
      cpthaddock

      A rare example of sensible policy was the UK implementation of the gas tax “escalator”. Designed to achieve easlly and at low cost what myriad other stupid, complex and intrusive policies would half ass.

      Another policy brilliant in its simplicity is the example of regions (New South Wales and the Northern Territory, I’m aware of) where you’re required to demonstrate proof of third party insurance cover to get a vehicle plated / tagged each year. Easy to police and a great leveler for those of us who do maintain insurance as required. It still leaves the problem of the insurance companies themselves …

      • 0 avatar
        dtremit

        Isn’t that (proof of insurance for registration) true almost everywhere that requires insurance? Though in many places the insurance companies just report to the government directly.

        I know it is here in Massachusetts; because my policy renews between when they mail out renewal forms and when my plate expires, I always have to get an insurance stamp on the paper form and register in person.

  • avatar
    dtremit

    Leaving the politics out of it, this part of the premise is pretty easy to address:

    “If we’re traveling less often — because we’re experiencing the Lowered Expectations lifestyle of the recession without end — why haven’t highway construction costs declined? If we are using the roads less, why haven’t we seen a corresponding decrease in repair costs?”

    Because:

    1) Most of the damage was done before highway mileage started to decline. We’re facing multiple decades of postponed maintenance.
    2) The cost of the same repair is higher today than ten years ago, because of inflation.
    3) The effort required to repair the roads is higher, because postponed maintenance has led to more serious damage to the road. E.g., roads that could have been resurfaced five years ago must today be ground down into the slab.

    This is of course compounded by the fact that the gas tax isn’t tied to inflation, so we are funding highways in 1993 dollars and repairing them in 2014 dollars.

    We missed a huge opportunity to invest in infrastructure during the recession, when construction costs were at their lowest in recent history, and borrowing costs were actually zero. Now we will pay for it, literally and metaphorically.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      But, but… Austerity! Debt! Belt-tightening! Bootstraps! Government is like a family! Rogoff-Reinhart!

    • 0 avatar
      philipwitak

      the federal highway system was first initiated by eisenhower during the 1950s and it had an original ‘life expectancy’ of about 50 years. that was almost 65 years ago. deferred maintenance costs are a bitch!

    • 0 avatar
      John

      Good points. I’d add a fourth – asphalt is a petroleum based product, and petroleum is more expensive than ten years ago.

  • avatar
    Duaney

    Every time fuel goes up significantly, every time the tax goes up significantly, it serves to destroy our economy. Travel industry, tourism industry, a myriad of small business’s along all of our roads, it hurts everyone. The realization that any government agency excels at wasting our tax dollars, the definition of insanity is to repeat the same thing over and over with the same poor results, leads to the conclusion that we should turn all of the highway and road work over to private industry. The existing taxes would easily be more than enough to fund all of our roads, but only if turned over to private companies.

  • avatar
    Astigmatism

    Congratulations, Jack. How you managed to draw a valid conclusion in your final paragraph based on the entire rest of your rant being paranoid gibberish is beyond me. Yes, raise the gas tax – raise it now, index it to inflation so it’s raised in the future, and raise it some more as vehicles get more and more efficient. It’s not perfect, because 4,000 pound electric vehicles damage the road just as much as 4,000 pound gas vehicles, but it’s a lot closer than anything else, and mileage isn’t a terrible guide for weight.

    But the rest of this? Sheesh. Just to clarify one point that you latch onto like a particularly misinformed lion to a gazelle: the total number of vehicle miles traveled has not, in fact, been declining for nine straight years. You can see the numbers here: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/travel_monitoring/14aprtvt/14aprtvt.pdf . It’s about 50% higher than it was 25 years ago, and has held roughly steady (within <2%) for the last 10 years. I'm not sure why you think this should lead to _declining_ road maintenance costs, particularly as (i) inflation happens, (ii) infrastructure gets older, and (iii) older, more damaged things cost more in upkeep than newer, less damaged things.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I would need more evidence to back up this argument but (iv) intentional use of poor materials in road construction.

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        All of the information for a public road should be readily available to you. Surveys, prints, material inspections, asphalt/concrete desciptions; hell even cylinders of cured concrete for strength testing should be available. A certfied professional engineer should have signed off on these things. Will you find a “stop the presses”or “live on action news at 6″ scandal? Probably not. Come in with an attitude and insinuating that an engineer cheated on something that has their signature on it will probably get a lot of guff fired right back at you. I’m not Pollyanna and saying there aren’t engineers who cheat. It’s just the number is very,very low. Engineers and the tradespeople who build bridges get really, really pissy about specificatons for bridge works. The enigneers have signed the specs, and the tradespeople know and people lives depend on them.

      • 0 avatar
        Astigmatism

        Entirely possible. Related: the typical guesstimate is that the average US highway was laid with a concrete depth of 11 inches, compared to 22-28 inches for the average Autobahn.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          The federal standard for Interstates is 12 inches for the outside truck lanes, 9 inches for all other lanes. There’s usually 12-14 inches of aggregate base under that, and 20-30 inches of compacted sub-base under that. The Germans only count the rigid pavement, not the compacted bases, and think we have only 9 inches of concrete or 6 inches of asphalt over native ground.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    The gas tax works because heavy vehicles and high mileage vehicles that do the most road damage use more fuel and pay more tax – and we already have a reliable and cheap method of collecting this tax. Electric vehicle rechargers can easily be set up to collect a tax that is similar to gasoline tax, and hence keeps Tesla and Leaf owners paying their fair share. Tax needs can also be reduced by making sure that the fuel tax goes to road repair and construction that carries 98+% of surface traffic, rather than channeling 10-20% to subsidize mass-transit and bike paths that carry less than 2% – let them pay their own way or take it out of general revenues. On the other hand, it is very clear from recent examples that allowing the government to track driving is going to result in bad things happening with that data.

  • avatar

    I am not sure if it is true, but I read somewhere that the amount of wear a vehicle causes a road rises faster than a 1/1 slope, for example, a 6,000 lb vehicle causes more than 2x the wear of a 3,000 lb vehicle.

    I say the government gets the needed revenue by basing plate fees on vehicle weight. A penny per pound sounds about right…

    I have also heard semi trucks cause much more wear than any normal vehicle. If the government charged them more it would come back to us in increase shipping costs, as well as higher prices on everything else.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      Road wear is roughly proportional to the fourth power of axle weight. Virtually all wear is inflicted by heavy trucks, on the passenger vehicle end of the scale the difference between a light car and a heavy one rounds to zero.

      One loaded semi truck going down the road does the same damage as over 3,600 (!) F-150s.

      • 0 avatar

        You caught me. I was trying to economically harm those guys with bed heights over 4 and a half feet. They keep merging into me without using their blinkers, and then blowing black smoke at me. It’s like having sand kicked in my face.

        If semis account for 99% of road wear, then it makes less sense to tax people with normal vehicles on miles driven. I guess the fairest thing is to pass the taxes to commercial trucking, since they are the ones tearing up the road, and let them pass it on to customers.

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    Not a lot of credibility, jack. You seriously doubt that heavy construction costs are way up? Its a conspiracy to charge more than the “true” cost which by your lights should still be at 1985 levels, just as charging more than sixty cents for a gallon of gas is a conspiracy?

    I agree replacing gas tax with a mileage tax makes little sense. Mostly its being done to placate people like you who “know” that they are paying “too much”.

    • 0 avatar
      dtremit

      Worth noting that concrete costs track fuel costs; cement production is very energy intensive.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Pavement concrete is mostly a mix of aggregates, and the cement just sticks it all together. The energy cost of the cement is going up, but the cost/availability of local aggregates is going up too, especially in urban areas. The cost of concrete pavement is now going up even faster than the fuel cost component.

        The cost of paving concrete varies by volume – economies of scale. I worked on the state engineer’s estimate for a highway widening ten years ago, and the estimate and bid matched at $175 per cubic yard. last Fall a project with the same volume came in with a bid of $260/CY. The original build in 1971 used an engineer’s estimate of $15/CY, and the winning bidder bid $12.

        Asphalt is REALLY tied to oil prices, which were $3/barrel in 1971 and $104 today. Raising the gas tax enough to cover those and other increases is political suicide. The bottom line is, transportation infrastructure can no longer be self-financed, general revenue must be used to cover the shortfall, as Congress did in 2010 when it transferred $35 billion of income tax revenue to the trust fund. That’s the only solution to the trust fun shortfall.

        • 0 avatar
          dtremit

          Thanks, that’s really interesting info. And you’re probably right that at this point, general revenue will be required.

          In general, it would make a heck of a lot more sense to tax fuel dollars than fuel gallons, since there’s a real relationship between the cost of fuel and inflation, and between the cost of fuel and the cost of road construction.

        • 0 avatar
          Landcrusher

          That’s a lot of maths. Did you have a figure on what the tax increase would have to be. I had thought about ten to fifteen cents would be enough. That’s suicidal?

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            The federal tax would have to be raised by dollars, not cents. Think European tax levels, producing $8-$9/gallon gas prices, with the federal tax equaling half that. Congress will never do it, even in stages, for instance, $1 increases every two years over eight years. One third of the Senate, and ALL of the House members are up for election every two years. The backlog of bridge replacement alone is THAT BAD.

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            I don’t find that a credible number. Even if you wanted to fix it all in a single year. Sorry.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Let’s all not forget that the trust fund was raided plenty of times over the years. Also, let’s not forget that a lot of the increase in costs is because of contract requirements including the payment of inflated wages to buy union votes.

  • avatar

    Late to this party, and others may have mentioned this. My reading of car journals since the 1960′s showed discussion of the gas tax off and on, and way back when, outrage that *some* of the gas tax money was being diverted for mass transit. At all. Now, there’s barely a mention of it, and if mentioned, the discussion is just around “how much this time” is being siphoned off for “light rail” projects that often have little use, but high upkeep.

    If 100% of the gas tax fixed the roads, it would go a lot further, obviously, versus being diverted for the pet projects of whomever.

    • 0 avatar
      Mr. K

      avatar
      ljmattox wrote:
      ‘…Now, there’s barely a mention of it, and if mentioned, the discussion is just around “how much this time” is being siphoned off for “light rail” projects that often have little use, but high upkeep. …’

      Light rail, heavy rail and busses keep many cars off the roads. If those cars were on the roads then the trust fund would be used to build more very expensive urban highway. See Big Dig http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Dig

      What gets more highway bang for the buck – and dont forget that most urban areas have the majority of a states population so urban areas could vote themselves mass transit subsidies.

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        Motor scooters are energy efficient transportation. Light rail and buses are not unless they’re mostly full and the route takes you where you want to go. Public transportation mostly involves moving largely empty metal boxes from stop to stop independent of potential customer needs.

        [ http://www.templetons.com/brad/transit-myth.html ]

      • 0 avatar
        Landcrusher

        Not all transit projects are likely that good at keeping cars off the road, and not all road projects are as bad as the big dig.

        What ought to be demanded is using taxes to pay for what they were justified by good management of funds, and our “leaders” pointing out unfair play like groups voting benefits to themselves rather than claiming credit for the theft.

        I won’t hold my breath. You?

      • 0 avatar
        CobraJet

        In my urban area some federal highway funds are used for stupid things like an antique trolley system that goes nowhere.

  • avatar
    korvetkeith

    Weight based use tax for vehicles over 10k lbs. No gas tax. No monitoring for light duty vehicles.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    if they get rid of the tax, the oil companies will just jack the price per gallon back up. just raise the gas tax. we dont need another government program.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      This is a myth.

      If I could sell a product for less money than the other guy, why wouldn’t I? Charges of price collusion amongst the oil companies has been investigated many times, finding nothing.

      You can’t blame rises in gas price on collusion without explaining why it also drops.

  • avatar
    George B

    The federal government needs to declare roads done and go home. Let each state figure out how to pay for roads.

    My state already has 3 reasonably efficient and non-invasive ways to collect money from me for roads.

    1) Excise tax on fuel.
    2) Vehicle Registration fee.
    3) Vehicle inspection fee.

    These three existing taxes can be raised as necessary to pay for roads. An odometer mileage based fee could be added to the vehicle inspection fee to get revenue from electric cars.

    Roads are popular. Any reasonably competent state politician should be able to sell this type of tax increase if the money collected actually gets spent on roads. That’s the key. Pair the tax increase with a state constitutional amendment to make sure the vehicle taxes get spent on improving roads and voters will likely accept the package.

    • 0 avatar
      dtremit

      If the interstate highway system isn’t an example of where the interstate commerce clause applies, what the heck is?

      How on earth is Wyoming (population: less than Milwaukee) supposed to pay for maintenance on I-80 and I-90, which is mainly used by out-of-state trucks driving through?

      • 0 avatar
        Astigmatism

        Freedom and the 10th Amendment will provide, just like they did when they built the Internet.

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        Wyoming would likely charge a toll on their interstate highways. I trust the Wyoming state legislature to come up with a better solution for the funding for Wyoming highways than congress in Washington, DC. Wyoming highways are a life or death priority number one issue for Wyoming, but they’re down in the rounding error for congress.

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        The interstate highway system was a great federal government accomplishment of the mid 20th century, but it’s done. The federal government also played a role in getting the transcontinental railroad done. Goal accomplished. The actual 21st century highway problem is intra-state expansion and maintenance, not building the interstate network of highways.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      @George B, the great irony is that currently the most expensive vehicle to register in my stable is my 1967 Mustang. I say “ironically” because it by far gets driven the least and in NM registration is supposed to be correlated to the amount of damage done by the vehicle to bridges and roadways as measured by the vehicles GVWR. Which means the NM MVD actually thinks I must be driving it enough to do extra environmental damage for being a gross polluter.

      It does in fact cost more to register than my F150, my Highlander, and my wife’s Pontiac Vibe. All of which get driven far more miles.

      If we could keep the congress critters from raiding the fund we would have actually been better off with Ross Perot’s (remember him?) proposal during one of his presidential campaigns. He wanted a high gas tax that would make the cost of each gallon to the consumer a sort of “fixed” price. When the cost of fuel fluctuated the tax would be lowered to keep the overall price of fuel steady.

      Example is if the current price of a gallon was fixed at $5.00 and $3.50 went to pay for the gas and $1.50 went to road construction/repair. Gas goes up 10 cents a gallon – the government’s take goes down to $1.40.

  • avatar
    AllThumbs

    What about the concept that the long-term big picture is to minimize fossil fuel usage period? That’s the right thing to do for so many reasons.

    I own eight cars, two of which get 10-15 mpg. I choose to use them for what I use them for, but that’s not commuting and that’s not long trips. I am very happy to pay higher fuel taxes to minimize consumption– whether that is the result of less driving or more efficient vehicles (which are both at play in the current drop in revenue from fuel tax). After all, almost every other rich country in the world pays a lot more for gas than we do.

    I’m also happy to have that tax fund mass transit. Despite my fleet, I take a bus and train to work and back because– for me– it’s cheaper, more comfortable, and much easier than driving. Those who choose to drive where I live do so because they have developed that habit and don’t choose to try something different, or– in far fewer cases– because they live somewhere not well served by public transportation.

    My state, alarmed at the loss of gas tax revenue, slapped an extra tax on electric vehicles. WTF? That’s the opposite of big picture common sense– which should be to encourage lower fossil fuel consumption. I’m willing to let electric vehicles be freeloaders on my highway and/or gas taxes if it serves the big picture.

    And, as someone very acquainted with the ability of our federal government to do lots of interesting things, I can assure everyone that there’s not a chance in the world that we are coordinated enough across our agencies for there to be a “government” that somehow manages to plan and manage the vast web of nefarious activity that Jack rants about. We ARE good enough to really screw up little patches here and there, especially when citizens WANT something NOW (like airport security), but that patchwork does not add up to anything resembling “the Feds” sticking it to the people in an organized and/or coherent fashion.

    • 0 avatar
      darkwing

      What about the concept that taxation should exert as little drag as possible on the economy, rather than being a bludgeon used to implement the fad of the moment by people who profit no matter what?

      • 0 avatar
        jim brewer

        Agreed. Cost causers should be cost payers unless there’s an explicit recognition of a need to subsidize. So far as I know, no one is arguing that we ought to be promoting highway transportation for the sake of promoting highway transportation.

        Raise the gas tax to cover costs. Index it to construction prices. Sterilize the tax increase by using the general fund revenues by a general tax decrease. I recommend doubling the child tax credit. It fits almost perfectly.

      • 0 avatar
        philipwitak

        @darkwing – who are these “…people who profit no matter what?” and, how can i become one?

  • avatar
    J.Emerson

    It’s not about fixing the roads. It’s about a political movement that can’t exist without the notion that we’re in a state of continuous crisis.

    Ask yourself: if the roads get fixed, if the economy improves, if taxes aren’t viewed as burdensome because the budget is balanced and government is generally seen to be efficient and effective, then where does that leave the more extreme elements of the conservative movement? How can the Tea Party perpetuate its own existence if enough people aren’t convinced that we’re speeding toward oblivion? Do you really think that the federal near default was about policy, or about making the most dire predictions of that movement a reality? If your entire movement is predicated on the notion that we’re living under The Worst President of All Time, and that he is singularly responsible for the unraveling of America, why would you ever want to try and “fix” government while he’s still in the Oval Office?

    It would be unfair and inaccurate to lay the blame for the current gas tax debacle at the hands of a movement that didn’t exist before 2008, considering that this problem has been in gestation for a long time. But the conservative movement painted itself into a corner when it allowed Grover Norquist to become its spokesman for tax policy. This turned taxes into a sort of ideological obsession that overwhelmed every other issue. It doesn’t help that the liberal left in this country is so limp-wristed and wimpy that it could barely summon enough political courage to pass the Heritage Foundation’s healthcare bill. How can anyone expect that same Left to mount an effective challenge to a Right which declares no more taxes, for any reason, ever, for all eternity?

    • 0 avatar
      darkwing

      The obstructionist meme was soooo 2013. (With a brief resurgence in late 14Q1 — but it didn’t last, and for good reason.)

      • 0 avatar
        philipwitak

        but it did last and its still for real.

        i don’t see any evidence whatsoever which indicates that the far right is finished with its attempts to obstruct obama’s political agenda. not regarding healthcare. not regarding immigration. not regarding climate change. or wall street reform. or welfare reform. or the geo-political issues in the middle east; et al.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    This has become, Simply Orwellian.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    Great article. Some things that come to mind:

    I’d feel more comfortable if this plan were enacted with the provision that under no circumstances would any data be made available to ANY government organization, with or without a warrant. Actually there’s no reason to track location at all if the system just counted miles off the odometer. Whether you drove x miles on the highway around a city or the same distance on local streets doesn’t matter and need not be recorded. The uplink should be not more than once a day, preferably weekly or monthly, the better to eliminate individual patterns being recorded. All this being said, given the current state of affairs I have no confidence of any such laws being observed.

    How long would it take before you could buy some GPS-spoofing device off Ebay?

    The feds finished the interstate system quite a while ago. The states should each be in charge of their own roads. There’s probably some states that are paying more than their share to subsidize other states’ failed infrastructure. Of course, then the feds would lose the ability to blackmail states into following fed policies like speed limits and the drinking age.

    Damn, Jack, you know some really interesting women.

  • avatar
    tced2

    The sales of gasoline/diesel have not dropped to zero. There is current income stream from these sales. The masters of the “highway trust fund” need to learn how to live within the current cash flow.
    The name of the fund indicates some level of “trust”. Congress needs to earn some of that “trust”.

  • avatar
    BrandonHarlow

    105 years from now, if all these comments were able to be read, the people reading them would think we are barbaric. the socialist utopia is at the forefront and were just involved. no way around it folks. were all to busy to make a stand. were all to broke to make a difference. and the more laws that are made and not repealed enable us to be controlled easier. the safe act is basically a law that is a stepping stone to abolishing a constitutional amendment. you think they did away with slavery? lol just ask any blue collar sole proprietor micro business. they will enlighten you on what the neo conservative view of slavery is and how it is administered in every day life to them in small doses. Worst part about all this is the silver spooner who never worked building and learning about economics and business from the ground up, thinks they know best, not only don’t, but the only intention they have when they make a decision is to make sure it will benefit their reelection and nothing else. people need better politicians or a new version. these ones are stale!

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I agree with some of your points but I’m not positive there will be computers in a hundred years as I see us devolving as a society.

    • 0 avatar
      old5.0

      Too many people with the “It’ll never happen here” mentality.

      “Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” -Douglas Adams

      Present any argument against the direction we’re heading, present any historical evidence you wish to support your thesis; no matter how logical and solidly supported your argument is, people will trip over themselves to tell you how wrong you are. The mental gymnastics required in these discussions are actually vaguely amusing in a “Fargo” sort of way. Whatever. Human nature is what it is and no amount of anonymous internet debate is going to change it.

  • avatar
    jjf

    The tracking devices will be mandated in robotic cars, and the fees will be built in. Overall costs will go down, because most people won’t be able to afford a car. All of your movement data will be on sale, and you will have to pay extra not to be blasted with media while traveling.

    It’s time to embrace bicycles. Enjoy driving while you still can.

  • avatar
    masrapida

    This some prime tinfoil hat shit right here.

  • avatar
    chaparral

    Assume 15,000 miles per licensed driver. Divide them equally between all registered vehicles in the household. The registration tax is then:

    T = fudge factor * annual miles assumed for this vehicle vehicle per year * Heaviest GAWR cubed.

    It’s not the fairest system ever invented. If you drive 13,000 miles in a Miata and 2,000 miles in a 25-year-old Isuzu box truck, you’ll pay for 7,500 miles in each. If you drive 2,000 miles in a CRX and 25,000 miles in an F-350 you’re only paying for 7,500 miles of F-350. It hurts those who drive less; if you live and work in College Station TX or similar 7,500 miles is generous.

    It does have the advantage of being cheap to implement. Don’t underestimate a government’s willingness to do something shortsighted cheaply.

    PS: It would also be the greatest thing to ever happen to the motorcycle industry. Your tax would go down a LOT by registering 5 sub-300-lbs-per-axle motorcycles!

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “If we’re traveling less often — because we’re experiencing the Lowered Expectations lifestyle of the recession without end — why haven’t highway construction costs declined?”

    We have more roads and lane miles than we used to. We tend to add roads more quickly than we eliminate them.

    The roads wear out largely because (a) that’s what they do and (b) semi trucks. Trucks do most of the damage, and roads need to be maintained, anyway. Reductions in passenger car driving won’t do much of anything to lower those costs.

    Don’t demand more roads, then complain that money needs to spent on upkeep. One basic way to reduce future maintenance costs is to not build the roads in the first place.

    Another issue is that Americans tend to be pennywise and pound foolish about road construction. We build roads to a price, but then end up with roads that require more maintenance. Compare the cost of building a lane mile of US interstate vs. German autobahn, and you’ll find that the autobahn costs more up front but then needs less maintenance because it is a thicker roadway that can withstand more abuse from trucks.

    In essence, we’re all subsidizing the trucking industry. One way to reduce road maintenance costs would be to move more goods by rail, but a lot of you would probably complain that the trains are part of a communist conspiracy and would object to those, too.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    I doubt anyone but me is this far behind at TTAC, but … isn’t this site the one that turned me on to Waze a couple of weeks ago? I’m against per mile road taxation because (barring the statistically insignificant alternative fuel users getting away with “unfair taxation advantages” that sound about like any other taxation motivation including the capital gains 15% monster) gas taxes are more fair. Best on a fairness based on use scale is to tax per mile x weight cubed. Good luck with that, it’s more complicated than addition and subtraction and we’re talking USA politics. Best of a fairness based on advantage derived from the transportation enabled economic activity is … a graduated income tax. Yup, increase taxes and cover roads out of the general fund. I don’t trust them to do it any more efficiently than they do anything else, but it’s still more fair than toll roads, more efficient than the private market making toll roads they own, and if that makes me a communist in the eyes of some tea-baggers; whatever. I’m so over tea party chicken hawks. I wish someone had shown what combined arms mean to those armed actual communists seizing public land for their exclusive use with small arms and ATV’s. “We’ll put the women up front.” Really? who said you get to choose the front? Surround yourself in women and children, the arty can still reach you in the middle. Or a global hawk launched hell fire. If small arms and ATV’s were effective in combat I’d be learning Sharia law at scimitar point. See; I can rant semi-coherently too.

  • avatar
    splatticus

    If Jack’s main point is about government intrusion, I have to say the odds are that discussions of this sort will seem quaint, someday, and if humor s still an option under future conditions, laughable. It could be as little as a few decades before citizens of advanced countries, and eventually all countries, will be gladly networked together, much like the Borg of Star Trek. As most children of today think nothing of the notion of privacy, future children will think nothing of cranial implants joining them to the hive.

  • avatar
    CapVandal

    1. The drop in miles driven has a lot to do with internet retailing. It does for me, anyway.

    2. All the wear on highways is caused by trucks. Let’s get real.

    3. All other developed countries have higher gas taxes. Just double it.

    4. We already have something called IPass. Automatically pays your tolls, at 1/2 of the cost of cash, and without slowing. Yea, they know something, and if they had decent database people, they could know a lot. It could be a problem or it could be an alibi.

    5. I would definitely pay for less congestion. Ban trucks during rush hours.

    6. Since 2008, there has been a huge amount of road work done in my area. And they damn well took their time about it.

  • avatar
    furiouschads

    Jack, please tell me this is a parody teabagger rant.

    USA moving towards lower operating costs by becoming more efficient–why is this a bad thing?

    It costs $$ to maintain roads–why is this a surprise? Do any driving recently?

    Politicians prefer scooping up quarters from under the seat to raising taxes–news flash?

    Knowing more about how our country works–why is this creeping big brotherism?

    Find something real to be upset about, like two wars that have unleashed a whirlwind, paid for on our credit card.

  • avatar
    marmot

    Jack, thanks for channeling HL Menckin a little bit. It’s always great to see those references in your writing.


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