By on December 30, 2008

Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski’s recently released transportation plan brags of creating jobs to build roads and bridges. But its main focus: making sure those roads won’t be used. The plan talks about “congestion,” “bottlenecks,” “greenhouse gas,” “carbon,” “green standards,” “non highway programs” and “incentive programs designed to reduce the number of cars on our roads.” To realize this vision, Kulongski and his supporters have to reinvent the wheel, or, more precisely, the tax on those wheels.

People are driving less and using more fuel efficient vehicles. It’s only a matter of time before alternative propulsion vehicles like hybrids and EVs account for a significant chunk of Oregon’s registered automobiles. You’d think Kulongoski and the state’s environmentally-minded politicians would be happy. Ecstatic. But the Beaver State’s fuel taxes states pay for its transportation funding. The less diesel and gasoline drivers buy, the less tax revenue for the state.

So how do you get people to drive less AND pay more for the privilege? Tax them by the mile. That way, the state can monitor and manipulate the per mile rate to generate sufficient tax revenue to cover their green dreams– no matter how efficient the taxpayers’ personal transportation.

Last year the Oregon Department of Transportation announced a successful demonstration of a GPS-based system. It tracks individual car’s movements, measures their mileage, calculates a fee and generally enables bureaucrats to collect “mileage taxes.” Now Gov. Kulongoski wants implement that system.

“The Governor proposes continuing the work of the Road User Fee Task Force – which will begin to partner with auto manufacturers to refine technology that would enable Oregonians to pay for the transportation system based on how many miles they drive.”

The idea is hardly new; pay-as-you-go has been the darling child of the greenhouse gas gang for some time.  Several European countries use tracking software to tax commercial trucking. London’s congestion charge is another form of the system. And despite public opposition, the UK government seems hell bent on “road pricing.”

Nor is Oregon’s desire to monitor motorists unique within the United States. To wit: the California Air Resources Board’s OBD-II (On-Board Diagnostics) regulations for carmakers.

The California standards mandate that OBD-II computers diagnose and record problems with cars’ emissions systems. Technicians download the data at inspection time. To more efficiently test cars and identify the vehicles that are polluting, California has upped its game. OBD-III specs seek to link on-board emissions diagnostic data with telemetry. Cars remotely identified as polluters would be flagged for testing.

The original idea was to have road-based sensors, so that drivers could be notified to bring their cars in for testing and repair. Of course, satellite based technology is more practical now.

When OBD-III was first announced, the implications for privacy and possible Fourth Amendment violations were obvious. With the threat of global warming enjoying mainstream acceptance, there’s little chance that these fears will prevail over arguments claiming the primacy of “the greater good.” After all, it’s “for the children.” And the future of our planet.

But even cloaked in a mantle of green advocacy, there’s no question that OBD-III, like road pricing, is the slippery slope to a world where all motorists’ movements are monitored, recorded and analyzed.

Obviously, we can’t stuff the technological genie back in the bottle. Police departments routinely use cell phones to track suspects, greatly increasing law enforcement’s effectiveness and providing invaluable assistance during abductions. But there are legal requirements for that procedure; laws that protect cell phone owners from indiscriminate/random search and seizure.

It’s also true that “black box” on-board electronics now record your speed, g-forces, acceleration, air bag deployment and more. In some states, the police can seize that information pursuant to a criminal investigation, with or without your permission. But again, it’s post-facto. The police have determined that a crime may have been committed.

In contrast, California wants all cars to tell them if they’re polluting, at any time they choose; without prior notice, a court order or a presumption of innocence. Oregon wants all cars to report to the treasury department. Where will it stop?

Perhaps along with your tax bill, Gov. Kulongoski  will send you an invoice for traffic violations, such as speeding or improper tire inflation. Since red light cameras can issue violations without a complaining officer, this seems like the next logical step.

The English, who are now the most surveilled nation on planet earth, have been justifying the proliferation of license plate, facial recognition and street cameras with “if you’re not doing anything wrong you have nothing to worry about” for decades. Meanwhile, America was founded on the principle that the government poses the greatest threat to personal liberty. Which is true, if technologically irrelevant.

Oh, and Gov. Kulongoski also wants to raise the state’s gas tax by two cents a gallon.

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64 Comments on “Editorial: Oregon Set to Implement Pay-As-You-Go Road Taxes...”

  • avatar

    Or you could tax gas alone, which would be easier, more fair and achieve much the same results. Heck, as fuel tax revenue goes down, maintenance and other costs associated with transit should follow.

  • avatar

    psarhjinian: Why would maintenance costs go down?
    EV’s and efficient vehicles aren’t tearing up the roads any less- they’re just resulting in less revenue for upkeep. That’s the problem.

    I do agree that Oregon’s solution is stupidly complicated and too easily abused. I would think a better system would be a mix of toll roads, higher fuel taxes, higher fees, and taxes on auto-related services (if you buy car-related services, you’re using the roads).

  • avatar

    It’s the beginning of big brother watching your movements.

    Taxing gas is probably the simplest way to collect for road usage. If you use a vehicle with poor gas mileage (i.e. heavy) then you end up paying more tax per mile. The situation gets more complicated when alternative propulsion vehicles (i.e. hybrids) get used. They use the roads and have a lower tax bill. If the intention is to collect for road use, then another tax will have to be devised. An all electric car won’t pay any gas tax. Do we need an “electric tax” for recharging electric vehicles? How do you distinguish electricity use for light bulbs, cooking, etc. from recharging your electric car?

    My complaint with gas taxes is that they aren’t entirely used for road maintenance. The “surplus” (what is not used for road maintenance) is diverted to general disbursement. This should stop. If they don’t spend all of the “road taxes” on roads then they should reduce the tax.

  • avatar

    Sounds like Oregon. We drove through there for Thanksgiving, and the Escort detector in the VR-4 saved us from Fuzz-revenue-operations no less than four times. Speed limits on the interstates there is 65. This scheme isn’t just about taxes, its about control. Once your movements can be tracked day-in day-out a door will be opened for the State that is unprecedented not in the scope of their voyeuristic tendencies but in how easily it is for them to wallow in it.

    I think there will be a severe backlash to these proposals as they pick up steam legislatively. Americans culturally do draw a line in the sand over these things much more so than our European compadres. Almost everything the government has done to subvert individual autonomy in the USA over the past several decades has basically been done “behind the scenes.” Things like bank records snooping, electronic eavesdropping, etc. are all in laws passed that we can read, but its not done in the in-your-face manner that these car-tracker proposals entail. That tends to be where Americans draw that proverbial line.

    Another interesting development I think we’ll see on this front is the proliferation of what I call “Little Brother.” The technologies at work here are all off-the-shelf and accessible to consumers. Cameras record the cops from your car when you get pulled over for example, while beaming it back to YouTube on a WiMax network. Cops hate cameras that aren’t theirs. GPS on cop cars is another thing, especially when such movements can be used in trial by a defense team. One thing is for sure, we are in a brave new world of perpetual legal and technical two-way battles with the State regarding all these electric gizmos and their capacity for nosy voyeurism and manipulation.

  • avatar

    Since Oregon has no Sales Tax, it won’t be easy to tax automotive services.

    I would have to read the details of Oregon’s solution before I pass judgement. Ronnie, would you provide a link?

    Oregon is more environmentally progressive than say coal mining country. Since tourism is a main source of revenue, they have to be.

  • avatar

    There is already another insidious invasion of privacy going on – some insurance companies offer discounts if you connect a logging device to the OBD connector on your car to verify how many miles you are driving. This needs to be stopped now!

    Why? Because the next step will be to see how fast you go, then they will require you to use this device or deny you insurance coverage.

    BTW, these devices are constantly reading data from the OBD connector (meaning communicating on your vehicles CAN bus), which prevents some of the advanced functionality of OnStar from working, like remote diagnostics and remote re-flashing of your vehicles CPU’s.

  • avatar

    There is already another insidious invasion of privacy going on – some insurance companies offer discounts if you connect a logging device to the OBD connector on your car to verify how many miles you are driving. This needs to be stopped now!

    Why? Because the next step will be to see how fast you go, then they will require you to use this device or deny you insurance coverage.

    On-board cameras on the car are the next step. When you can watch an instant-replay of the crash, it’s much easier to tell whose fault it was and whose fault it wasn’t. Insurance companies love anything that minimize shark-feeding, so look for big discounts for having one of those installed in your ride in the near future.

    Everyone should get ready for their close-up.

  • avatar

    There is a much simpler way of doing this. I know (at least in Mississippi) every time you get an annual vehicle inspection sticker they log your miles. They also issue an annual tint inspection if you have tint in the form of a signed certificate so that the authorities know where you got your inspection (curbs illegally placed inspection stickers for too-dark tint). Why not take this one step further and issue a tax certificate logging the new odometer reading… all vehicles are registered with the DMV anyway so records are already in place for each tax payer. Just treat it like property taxes (or tack it on your next tag renewal)

  • avatar


    The difference between the insurance company doing it and the state is that those policies that have OBD based discounts are a contract between the owner and the insurer. It’s a voluntary agreement. As citizens we need to prevent the insurers from making it other than voluntary, but right now there aren’t any real privacy concerns with how insurers use the data.


    Here’s the plan, straight from the Oregon governor’s website:

  • avatar

    The privacy implications should motivate all of us to oppose this. This is so overreaching on so many levels that there is really no good argument for it.

    Smart Oregonians will figure out a way to register their cars in another state. I would imagine that Portland and other towns in northern Oregon are going to be loaded with cars with Washington registrations.

  • avatar


    There are probably two reasons why they don’t just use an odometer based system, particularly since it’s already a crime in most states to tamper with an odo reading. One reason, a sound one, is that not all the miles on the odometer are driven in one state. Why should Oregon tax me for travel in Washington or Idaho?

    The other reason is the real reason for using OBD/GPS/Sat. It’s the issue of surveillance and control. Oregon’s governor wants to change how people drive.

  • avatar

    Oregon has long been some thing of an odd duck with their tax structure, this does not surprise me.

    Road damage from cars is a red herring. Our current roads would last centuries without truck traffic. The damage to the road is the cube of the weight of a vehicle. A 100,000 tri-axle chip hauling truck is the real villain here.

    Oregon has had a similar scheme to soak out of state trucks with a ton-mile tax for a long time. Under IFTA (Interstate Fuel Tax Authority) The other 49 states allow you to report your mileage and pay the tax due. The kicker is the system charges a low flat fee to in state forest products haulers while soaking interstate carriers. This “soak the outsiders” tax regime somehow holds up to constitutional challenge.

    Paradoxically OR is one of the best places to purchase tires and other consumables.

    This road use tax could evolve in a similar fashion; its more expedient to tax outsiders that those who can vote you out of office. Look at airport, hotel and car rental levies.

  • avatar

    This is another B.S. money grab. These people routinely use highway funds for other purposes. Here is a neat idea, use the funds generated by the fuel taxes for only what they were intended and then lets see where we stand. The continual rolling of these funds into the general fund has created the huge infrastructure deficit we currently face. Seems as though all government from local to federal just can’t have enough of my money. NO MORE TAXES. A nickel here and a nickel there and soon they have the whole dollar.

  • avatar

    Didn’t think about the first point and you’re likely right on the second. Although I driven into and through states (and used their roads)without paying for gas. Vehicle registration here includes road use taxes also.

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer


  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    Smart Oregonians will figure out a way to register their cars in another state.

    Smarter Oregonians will simply vote out the idiots who passed this law in favor of politicians who will promise to repeal it.

    And if they don’t, well, in a democracy people get the government they deserve.

    Last time I checked, Oregon was not a banana republic or a military dictatorship. If the Oregonians put up with this nonsense, it will be because they consented to it, not because it was forced on them.

  • avatar

    Two weeks after it goes into effect there will be a hack to subvert it. I won’t have he government tracking my movements.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    The plan includes safeguards in the way the software is written to eliminate most of the (somewhat hysterical) concerns voiced by this editorial. Also, you can opt out, and keep paying the gas tax at the pump, although at a 2 cents higher rate. The effective rate is NOT increased, unless you stick with the pay-at-the-pump formula.

    Although I’m not wild about this plan, I don’t see a lot of practical alternatives to tax EV’s and hybrids. The income from the gas tax has been falling for years (inflation adjusted), and Oregonians are not likely to support an increase.

  • avatar

    The plan includes safeguards in the way the software is written to eliminate most of the (somewhat hysterical) concerns voiced by this editorial.

    Those are the sort of safeguards that will be dismantled as we ski down the slippery slope.

    Undoubtedly, speed enforcement will be the next domino to fall. Link the GPS system to a database of speed limits, dial in a couple of news stories about fatalities allegedly caused by speed, and soon enough, you’ll have eye-in-the-sky traffic enforcement 24 hours per day in the name of safety.

  • avatar

    And if they don’t, well, in a democracy people get the government they deserve.

    Not just democracies. Any government must have enough public support to be able to staff the army and internal police.

  • avatar

    What would happen if I simply don’t buy any new car that incorporates the technology that drives this tax grab?

    I’m already 55; I’ve only got another couple new cars to go anyway — what if I just keep the one I’ve got up to snuff and make it last another 10 years or so?

    What could the state do? MAKE me retrofit the computer/technology into my older car??

  • avatar

    “Smart Oregonians will figure out a way to register their cars in another state. I would imagine that Portland and other towns in northern Oregon are going to be loaded with cars with Washington registrations.”

    That would be a switch. For years Washington residents had to pay such high excise taxes on vehicles that they finally threw them out by referendum. There were so many Washington cars registered in Oregon, which licenses by weight and charges a flat fee for passenger vehicles (and trucks through 3/4 ton), that Washington was always trying to come up with schemes to nab these folks.

  • avatar

    As higher mileage gas burning cars and electric cars replace the current mix, then there does have to be a change in how we levy a use tax to pay for the roads. With our current mix of vehicles (except heavy trucks), a gas tax roughly converts to a mileage tax, but as pointed out above, when it comes to 3/4/5 axle trucks the diesel tax still doesn’t reflect wear and tear by heavier vehicles.

    So what method is proposed by TTAC’s B&B that preserves our ability to continue traveling when and as we please in anonymity? Is there some reason to think that time, distance and position must all be recorded?

  • avatar

    Pure BS- I have lived here for 20 years. We only have 3M people in the state so they can’t justify the development of such a system (if technology based). They can’t even pass a sales tax.

    Oh and by the way, they are not allowed to pump their own gas; a “safety” law from the 1950’s.

    So, you could have the gas pumper check your ODO when you fill up and add it to your bill. Even better, just have a tip jar for “good roads karma.”

  • avatar


    I took the information straight from the governor’s statement. There is no mention of any software “safeguards”, just getting the auto manufacturers to help the taxman spy on drivers.

    In one of the articles you linked to (the Gazette Times link doesn’t work, btw):

    Critics had worried that the technology could be used to track where vehicles go, not just how far they travel, and that this information could be stored by the government.

    In interviews with the Democrat-Herald and others, James Whitty, the ODOT official in charge of the project, tried to assure the public that that was not in the plans…

    “The concept requires no transmission of vehicle travel locations,” the report said.

    The report said that under the Oregon concept of the program, “ODOT would have no involvement in developing the on-vehicle devices, installing them in vehicles, maintaining them or having any other access to them except, perhaps, in situations involving tampering or similar fee evasion activities.”

    Paul, perhaps you are comfortable with such assurances, but when I see phrases like “not in the plans”, “concept requires no”, and “except, perhaps, in situations involving…”, I see loopholes perfectly suited to nanny-state bureaucrats who want to extend their reach.

    As for being able to hack the system, the bureaucrat’s comments about tampering make it clear that the state is going to tell you what you can do with your own property.

    I’d like to hear what a legal expert on the subject of trespass to chattel would say about that last point.

    Also, since the state claims it won’t install the technology on cars and leave it up to manufacturers, how will the state tax a user-built EV?

  • avatar

    Ask yourselves whether you’d like to see this sort of thing happen where you live:

    The war on terror and the speed-safety argument both provide great excuses for using cameras, GPS and satellites for purposes for which they were not allegedly intended:

    Allowing Oregon to go ahead with this plan puts it very close to the proposals that you can see above. It will take a few years to ratchet up the level of abuse, and a few more before old age, high mileage and accidents kill off the vehicles that lack the monitoring gear.

  • avatar
    Ralph SS

    RF: “Where will it stop?”

    I’m thinking this is a rhetorical question on Mr. Farago’s part.

    So, if you will pardon the metaphors…

    How far down this road can we see. It is obvious, to me at least, this is about control over the servants (that would be you and me). It seems to me that road can only lead to one place. Some people call that place Slavery. Endentured Servatude?

    I remember when this was a free country. Apparently that freedom thing is not working out.

    Shame, that.

  • avatar

    If they’re going to rely on auto manufacturers: I can already see the whole state driving 60’s convertible cadillacs, aircooled 911’s and Austin Healeys.

    Of course, the whole high-tech scheme is just a fancy way of letting people know that their gas tax goes up by 2 cents a gallon. No manufacturer would cooperate, so it’ll look like it’s their fault that the whole grand idea didn’t get rolling.

    So yeah. Real news here: Oregon gas tax went up 2c.

  • avatar

    From the Gazette Times Article

    “A GPS-based system kept track of the in-state mileage driven by the volunteers. When they bought fuel, a device in their vehicles was read, and they paid 1.2 cents a mile and got a refund of the state gas tax of 24 cents a gallon.”

    Doing some quick math if your car gets better that 20mpg (1.2 cpm) you are better off under the old system. If you have a reasonably efficient car you will pay more under the new system. Now if you have a gas-hog you come out slightly ahead. Those with EVs or brewing their own bio-diesel are really getting pwned.

  • avatar

    Amazing how all these schemes pick the most technologically dense way to tax people, and report on their whereabouts while they’re at it. For all the chest-thumping I read on TTAC about privacy rights, I’d have expected a revolution by now! At least the Brits are blowing up speed cameras.

    Meanwhile, what I see out there is that large trucks ruin roads, and pay nothing, relatively speaking, to use them. I live on a country road where trucks are forbidden except for deliveries. The surface has lasted for decades, even here in Nova Scotia. Meanwhile, the nearest major road has only been open for a dozen years, and it has been beaten to death by large trucks.

    Our western societies are amazingly good at taxing the wrong thing for the wrong reason. Trucks use roads I pay for, trains use rails THEY pay for. This inconsistency of payment for use is normal in our society, and howls of outrage emerge from the trucking industry whenever someone suggests they’re at fault. Diesel costs too much, life is too hard for the owner-operator, etc, etc. Sure, I believe them too.

    Society at large has permitted the distortion of pricing signals so that interests become entrenched and everyone calmly forgets who should be paying for what on the basis of real use. So if I propose a large tax on semis, the next thing I get told is that food prices will shoot up and the poor will be disadvantaged. Things are so entangled in BS and legacy entitlements that many things make no sense any more.

    The US always takes the easy way out. Mandate mileage standards for cars. That way a 3rd party is responsible, and the average joe has to make zero effort to ease up on use. Doing it the other way around with a gas tax makes the righteous holler in wrath. Hell, wouldn’t want to tell the average joe that he’s a slob, or he won’t vote for me next time, thinks the politician.

    This charade of utter nonsense perverts us from clearly analyzing what in hell should be done to make things fairer, and to assign costs to those who cause them in the first place. It causes economic growth in irrational directions.

    Here we are in my tiny corner of the world, where evryone is being exhorted to insulate buildings till we can’t breathe so as to save energy. Meanwhile, the brand new 600 acre shopping center is populated with buildings guzzling electricity, and roads galore. Next thing we need is a new electricity plant paid for by EVERYBODY already connected to the grid to keep the new shopping center going. As Spock would say, “Illogical, Mr. Scott!”

    This kind of mindless expansion was addressed after the first oil crisis in the ’70s by the bandying about of marginal cost pricing for electricity. Conferences were held, experts stood up and presented convincing arguments. Nothing happened.

    I expect nothing will happen to reduce energy use by any substantial amount in the future. Like the Tax Code with its myriad exemptions for every Tom, Dick and Harry with a “special” interest, rules and regulations will expand to cover each nook and cranny, and thoroughly confuse and annoy the populace. Left and right politicians will argue over this mindless crap, and nothing will change anyway, except even more gerrymandering with the system.

    I say replace it all with a “living” tax. Yup, folks, each day you wake up, an electronic chip will signal Government Central, and another $20 will be added to your bill for societal services. Just for being you.

    In the vehicular realm, and continuing with the centralized planning theme currently known as CAFE, about as undemocratic a way of going about things as I can imagine, let’s hit it from the other direction. No private vehicle can weigh more than 3000 lb, period, or have a coefficient of drag times frontal area exceeding 25 square feet. That will give great incentive to produce everything from overblown windbags of mini-vans, to proper cars offering decent comfort. In my scheme pickup trucks are included if they are registered to a private user who feels the need to drive around in hiking boots looking rugged. Anything you want, just so long as it meets the weight limit. Mileage would be good, due to the light weight. Go for hybrid powertrains if you must, or electric vehicles, but no dispensation for heavy batteries that have to be accelerated to speed and braked to a stop, which is a bad idea anyway. Yup, any kind of vehicle will be allowed, it just can’t be a blatant porker, and furthermore, no exemptions for anyone at all.

    Pie in the sky. Nothing will change until the last ghostly hydrocarbon meets an oxygen molecule and self-immolates. Whereupon, people will stand up, no matter what side of the political spectrum they’re on and calmly tell the other side, “See, I told you so! It’s all your fault!”

  • avatar
    Rev Junkie

    Why doesn’t Kulongoski go the full distance and instead of fining offenders for going 36 in a 35 zone, or having your tires inflated 1 psi under recommended pressure, or changing gear at 3000 rpm instead of 2500rpm, why not take them to a cubic limestone building guarded by barbed wire fences and soldiers with truncheons, bring them into Room 101 where they will be tortured until they love Al Gore and accept the fact that global warming is real and Republicans are killing the planet. Geez, why not just rename Oregon Airstrip One? It only seems fitting!

  • avatar

    I find the tone of this editorial and some of the comments rather worrisome. There are several complaints — 1) more taxes = bad; 2) big brother is wathcing us; 3) the government wants us to stop driving.

    Of the various concerns, big brother is one that is most compelling, but it invites a useful debate about privacy vs state interest. Rather than starting a slippery slope, we are far down that slope in general. (If you have any question about that, I was just wathcing a show where they found a criminal because he sent a letter to the cops using a map he obtained on-line – they tracked his address from determining which service he got the map from, etc.). This editorial and community would be better served by starting a debate about privacy rather than decrying a slippery slope.

    With respect to more taxes are bad (this comes from several of the comments more than the editorial), I would ask the commentators how they want to pay for roads in general? We’ve been underinvesting in maintenance for years, and gas taxes haven’t been adjusted for inflation for a long time. So we’ve been literally paying less taxes for road upkeep every year for a long time. We need to do something to pay for road upkeep. Frankly, I find a pay as you go scheme more compelling than many other solutions — at least it taxes those who use the roads in proportion to their use (I might suggest an additional amendment that the tax be adjusted for distance and weight of vehicle).

    As to the government wanting us to stop driving, I don’t see the argument from this pay by distance proposal… you just pay tax based on what you use. To an extent we already do this with gas tax, but MPG adjusts it some.

  • avatar

    “So how do you get people to drive less AND pay more for the privilege? Tax them by the mile.”

    OR, Governor Ted could cut spending.

  • avatar

    This is incredibly disturbing. I think the reliance on automakers to include the hardware themselves is the worst part of it. Am I supposed to believe that the insurance monitoring programs (Progressive already has a pilot) and this road tax meter will both remain seperate devices? Not likely, it’s far more likely that the insurance industry comes to an understanding with the car manufacturers to cut costs. And since the insurance behaviour trackers need to broadcast all vehicle behaviour we can know that despite all assurances that there won’t be a hardware limit that protects our privacy. Also, you think the insurance companies won’t pay the feds to make these things compulsory?

    The only way to make this go away is to brutalize the politicians involved. Make nasty comments very publicly, make sure voters see them. Find some way to rhyme peeping-tom to someone’s name and make damn sure that figures prominently in their upcoming election. Or maybe call him out as a coward for not having the stones to actually raise gas tax by a meaningful amount.

    TTAC would be a great place to start this, the site has already made a name for itself by snidely assaulting the integrity of domestic manufacturers (not that they don’t deserve it), I’d like to see that same love shown to our worst politicians.

  • avatar

    I wouldn’t have a problem with this proposal if drivers were issued a number, similar to a Social Security number, and the mileage tracking information was not shared with government agencies on a personalized basis. In other words, if the program could be set up like a medical study where the patient’s identity was obscured, that would be okay with me.

    I understand the overall motive. Oregon does not have a Sales Tax, they also have Property Tax limitation, and there is no political support to raise the Income Tax, (which is already very high); they are concerned that as people drive less, or use alternative fuel vehicles, they won’t be able to support road funding.

    Although this GPS plan could work, I think a system of bridge/road tolls, private roads, higher vehicle registration fees, higher battery and tire disposal fees, higher trailer/rv fees, and perhaps increased taxes on Ski resorts would be preferable.

  • avatar

    “if you’re not doing anything wrong you have nothing to worry about”

    Unless that something happens to be freedom. I don’t plan to install anything like this on my bicycle, nor my old motorcycle, in fact I predict serious opposition to this.

    The ODOT apparently will have no access, privacy protect, yada yada, unless of course there is a suspicion of tax evasion. That little loophole means everyone gets dumped into the database and the mining can begin.

    I am only surprised it has taken this long. Between cell phones and on star we are already monitored too much.

    Oh well, freedom was fun while it lasted.

    And oh yeah, how long until the government disables your car for security, enviromental, or any other reason? Send a digital kill signal to your car and it sits in your driveway, thanks to gps they know where it is and how long it has been there.

    Don’t like it? Tough shit. Get on board with conservation, taxation, and all that.

  • avatar

    I can see it now:

    The scene: Orange County Choppers

    The project: The State of Oregon Road-Use-Tax Commemorative bike.

    Paulie: “I think of all the bikes we have done, this is the best. I made the cover for the GPS sending unit on the water jet machine. I especially like the cool skulls and dollar signs I designed on it.”

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    As has been said several times on this very site, the slippery slope argument is lightweight and unconvincing as a rhetorical device.

    To my mind, the data protection argument is silly whenever it comes from those who gladly voted for people like Bush and Ashcroft, twice. Wiretapping yes, habeas corpus no, road pricing no? How weak is that? OK, probably everybody here votes Libertarian…

    (I think data protection needs to be strengthened in all areas, and have donated to Privacy International,, and urge anybody truly interested in the subject to consider doing the same).

    Capitalist newspapers such as The Economist have been saying for years that road pricing is the only way to go if you want to have sufficient investment in roads. Well-governed places such as Singapore have implemented fair road-pricing schemes. I understand it when anybody says he is against taxes, but we pistonheads don’t want to be perceived as freeloaders either, I would say.

  • avatar

    Martin…what part of the slippery slope is unconvincing? I think that it’s really just a slick way of pointing out easily foreseen bad conquences. When people apply it to a subject where there is no precedent then yes, it can get ridiculous, but in this case I’d say it’s very well applied.

    Would it sound better if everyone said, “the easily foreseen consequence of allowing the government to receive driver data directly from a vehicle is abusive ticket writing etc…?” I don’t know, I think slippery slope has a nice ring to it, especially since we all probably understand the context.

  • avatar

    Always drive an old car?

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    tedward: as a general argument, slippery slope is no good — see the below.

    In this particular case, you have a point: road pricing can possibly lead to more tickets. But what should the consequence be? No road pricing? Or better protection of privacy? I am for the latter, since I think road pricing is just going to happen — we need better roads, insurance companies want it, and the non-car driving population (and the non-truck driving car drivers) will at some point want fairer taxation.

    “The Slippery Slope is a fallacy in which a person asserts that some event must inevitably follow from another without any argument for the inevitability of the event in question. In most cases, there are a series of steps or gradations between one event and the one in question and no reason is given as to why the intervening steps or gradations will simply be bypassed. This “argument” has the following form:

    Event X has occurred (or will or might occur).
    Therefore event Y will inevitably happen.
    This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because there is no reason to believe that one event must inevitably follow from another without an argument for such a claim. This is especially clear in cases in which there is a significant number of steps or gradations between one event and another.”

  • avatar

    Police departments routinely use cell phones to track suspects, greatly increasing law enforcement’s effectiveness and providing invaluable assistance during abductions. But there are legal requirements for that procedure; laws that protect cell phone owners from indiscriminate/random search and seizure.

    I’m curious as to why cell network data hasn’t been mined in DEFENSE of speeding.

    Cell firms certainly have real time cell-network traffic patterns that would show average vehicles’ speeds on high traffic roadways. They ought to make average speeds public – as an info-service – so people know what speed is currently ‘permitted’.

  • avatar

    haha, nicely done. I didn’t mean to dispute that the argument form is fallacious (wouldn’t use the phrase myself), just wanted to preserve the value of the prediction so it doesn’t get discounted.

    I don’t think that there is any guarantee that we can extract from our government that will preserve our privacy in this case however, the insurance industry throws entirely too much money at them and their goal is one thing…profit through pointed licenses. They will gladly see whatever changes through that they can if it boosts profits, regardless of our best interests. Politicians also have a penchant for outrage legislation (seizing on a tragedy to enact a law good for their electoral prospects and bad for the rest of us). So there’s your slippery slope, I do stand by it as a prediction.

    As for a solution…I like the gas tax (combined with weight modifiers for registration fees). Same effect as road pricing, dosen’t penalize efficient cars, is less costly, complicated and invasive. I also think that no one in this country should be off the hook paying for our roads. I may live where I don’t need one, but all of my services and goods originate in car-required country. This will be the case for my entire life I’ll confidently predict.

  • avatar

    As has been said several times on this very site, the slippery slope argument is lightweight and unconvincing as a rhetorical device.

    FWIW, the phrase “slippery slope” was an editorial insertion, not in the original draft submission, though I did give thought to using the camel’s nose in the tent metaphor. Lest this be seen as critical of RF’s prowess as an editor, I have a quibble or two (I think it’s a rule that writers have to take issue with their editors), but the edited version is better than the original.

    I’m surprised that the Oregon plan hasn’t gotten much attention from the autoblogosphere. I spotted it in a comment at a conservative web site and while other right of center and libertarian sites have picked up on it, I think TTAC is the only auto site that ran something.


    If a camel slides down a slippery slope and ends up with its nose in the tent, is that doubly troubling?

  • avatar

    States take in plenty of revenue. Roads and infrastructure should be top priority, not the social spending and other nonsense. But what gathers votes easiest?

    If states stayed true to what they were supposed to do we would not be in the road cost pickle we are.

  • avatar

    GS650G :
    December 30th, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    States take in plenty of revenue. Roads and infrastructure should be top priority, not the social spending and other nonsense. But what gathers votes easiest?

    If states stayed true to what they were supposed to do we would not be in the road cost pickle we are.

    Precisely. The problem is not this nonsense about decreasing tax revenues and fewer miles driven. Compare the number of cars on the road today to ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. They’re practically doubling every decade! Oil is in short supply (or so Exxon and the political left will lead us to believe), and so higher prices (a general trend, the current downturn not withstanding) have been the rule for decades, as well.

    No, the problem absolutely is not revenue from gas tax and other fees paid to the government, just as the absurdly massive amounts EVERY SINGLE WORKER pays into Social Security isn’t actually too little to support the program.

    The problem is American Politics, Inc., both sides included (sorry, Rush, you can’t pin this on your least favorite Far Lefty) dipping without end into these funds for every little extra $3 bil visitor center and $250 mil hydro-electric dam and $90,000/year additional campaign advisor position every time they want to. Look at any bill that passes through the legislature, be it state or federal level. 5% is actual name-worthy bill. 95% is personal kick-backs and last minute additions to appease (mostly) special interests and (occasionally) local constituents in exchange for more political power to do more of the same old bullshit.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Ronnie: looking back, I see I expressed myself in a grumpy and one-sided way. I should have mentioned that I think this is a good and worthy article (even though I don’t agree with some of its main points), and that this is a good and worthy discussion.

    tedward: I agree with you that there are many positive externalities to automotive transport. The problem is that, whenever it is convenient, there are always positive externalities to be seen, anywhere. From nuclear fusion to farming to handouts for mediocre industries, special support can be (and is) requested, because of course we are talking about a Good Thing. I’d go so far as to say the positive externality argument was the last resort of the scoundrel, but that expression was already taken.

    In contrast to nuclear fusion however, automotive transport has numerous negative externalities. Do you really think the positives outweigh the negatives so much that car drivers deserve a free ride?

    I agree with you that taxing gas is more elegant. But unless you are doing it on a national level, it doesn’t work well, because people cross state borders on a whim.

  • avatar

    In this particular case, you have a point: road pricing can possibly lead to more tickets. But what should the consequence be? No road pricing? Or better protection of privacy?

    If the government wants or needs more money, and the purposes are legitimate, then the answer is to raise the funds through less obtrusive means. Assess the registration fees based upon fuel economy, instead of the value of the car, and increase the fuel tax over time so that the cost influences behavior.

    The slippery slope argument is completely appropriate because there are numerous historical examples of it. When modern western governments have become totalitarian, they generally evolved their way into it. It’s much easier to gain public acceptance for tyranny if it is applied gradually and selectively, as we have seen time and time again.

    Look at what is happening right now in the UK. The London congestion charge cameras are now being used for law enforcement purposes, contrary to what was claimed before the system was introduced. The commonplace use of speed cameras has laid the groundwork for justifying the use of GPS monitoring, based in part on the claim that GPS would be less random and therefore more fair than the cameras. The GPS argument would be more difficult to make had they not installed the cameras in the first place.

    When the intrusions are gradually introduced, the steps becomes easier to tolerate. It’s always the same routine — we are told it will stop at a certain line, but the line soon gets crossed and a new line is drawn.

    A taxation system based upon monitoring movement is so obviously intrusive that it goes beyond the pale. There is no reason that Americans should accept such a system as being anything less than unconstitutional. This is an area for which conservatives and liberal civil libertarians should be able to ally with each other to nip this thing in the bud, and they should.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    It’s fun to debate stuff with you guys!

    Pch101, as usual your arguments are forceful and a pleasure to read. But I regret to say that I am not convinced. Would you be kind enough to state historical examples of slippery slides down to totalitarianism? Fascism in Germany and Italy for instance began by coup and were not introduced gradually. Russia could have gone both ways; many observers expected the Mensheviki to prevail. Bush is a gradualist authoritarian but you guys voted him and his like out.

    Sure there are examples of gradualist developments but I think there are more examples of historical turnarounds. Your argument smacks of determinism. Are you perchance a former Marxist?

    Again I humbly refer to Privacy International: the Wikipedia entry states that Germany is one of the countries that are best at protecting personal information. Yet Germany has a successful road pricing scheme for commercial transport. (Not to mention, Germany has the only truly free, i.e. in cases speed-limitless road system). Where’s the slippery slope here? I would theorize that Germany’s strict, institutionalized protection of personal privacy is actually a precondition for a good and useful road pricing system.

    Happy new year, everybody! My plan is to get drunk and leave the car at home for a day or two. I’ll be raising my glass to the fine readers, commentators and writers at TTAC!

  • avatar

    It is not a matter of underinvesting in road maintenance, but rather inappropriate spending of the funds on programs not related to infrastructure. A majority of politicians believe that they do not have a spending problem, but a revenue problem.

    There was an editorial in the Orange County Register a while back that chastised politicians for spending habits that they would not do with their own personal finances. The tone of the piece was that as soon as they have access to “other people’s money”, the ideas of frugality and spend-thriftness are soon forgotten.

  • avatar

    Martin…going to jump in with a point on this one. I’d say a big factor in this situation is the strength of our “law & order” crowd (in both parties) who are resolutely opposed to the protection of privacy rights. By themselves they constitute little more than a nice counterpart to the reflexively libertarian, but in combination with a growing industry dedicated to making money on the margins of law enforcement they have the ability to make serious changes to the way that laws are enforced and interpreted.

    Exacerbating this is the business model of these private enforcement contractors (and the insurance industry has always been in this position) which skims just enough off the top to not only make a nice profit, but to also fund a healthy lobbying effort. Contracts could, of course, be structured to deny them this extra profit, but then what would the benefit be for politicians who implement tools such as camera enforcemnt?

    I do agree with you that the slippery slope argument is a misapplied when examples given are of different governments with entirely different social contexts etc (for instance, everyone knows that Britain is a nation of geriatrics terrified by children and quickly moving objects)… but I think that if we restrict our focus to the actions of say, the insurance industry and modern American politicians then predicting future behaviour is possible and realistic.

  • avatar

    The sort of editorial that makes TTAC so worthwhile. Thanks

  • avatar

    pay-as-you-go has been the darling child of the greenhouse gas gang for some time. …

    Theoretically, “Pay as you go” is the fairest way, period. Making those pay for their usage/impact really is the best way, generally speaking, to keep down total consumption of something. Should the “something” have significant social cost, those who use the most should pay the most. That is the good part.

    The reality here is that this is not about reducing fuel use, cutting greenhouse gas, or any laudable goal like that. This is a way to open the door to monitoring peoples travels and behavior. That alone is enough to undo any good that might otherwise come of it. It is bad enough that some insurance companies want to plug a monitor into our OBDII ports and dangle the promise of lower rates. Once you open the floodgates of this intrusion, there is no going back. As the Robot would say, “Danger Danger Will Robinson”

  • avatar

    Martin & David,

    Thanks for the kind words. I saw a reference to this on The Corner @ the National Review site and said to myself that it’s just the kind of thing the best & brightest like to chew on.

  • avatar

    Just one more way to shift taxation onto the poor and middle class through regressive means while the rich are left unaffected.

    Income taxes are the only fair way to raise revenue equitably and without violating peoples rights to privacy.

  • avatar

    Income taxes are the only fair way to raise revenue equitably and without violating peoples rights to privacy.

    Relying too much on high incomes works as long as they continue to earn high incomes. Note that states with the high spending & income taxes (CA, NY) seem to be the more fiscally degenerate.

  • avatar

    Note that states with the high spending & income taxes (CA, NY) seem to be the more fiscally degenerate.

    They wouldn’t be in much trouble if the flyover bumpkins weren’t stealing their fed tax dollars.

    Ironically, it’s those same bumpkins who tend towards regressive philosophy when they’re skimming off of the progressive tax.

  • avatar

    Would you be kind enough to state historical examples of slippery slides down to totalitarianism? Fascism in Germany and Italy for instance began by coup and were not introduced gradually.

    The Nazis actually provide a good example. They were elected in parliamentary elections, before Hitler was appointed as chancellor by a democratically elected leader. The repressive measures were gradually introduced over time, and the Nazis went to great pains to use the legal system to change the laws to serve their agenda, and to establish courts that would enforce their version of the rule of law. They didn’t simply overthrow the government and change everything overnight.

    In a less extreme version of this, you can see this occurring in Britain right now. They are morphing into a surveillance society, which is transitioning to using camera enforcement as an interim step to using GPS.

    Are you perchance a former Marxist?

    I’ve always preferred the Three Stooges to Groucho or Harpo. I’ve always liked free enterprise, too.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    If the Orwellian Oregonian proposal would ever become a reality, I would seriously consider walking.

  • avatar

    What was wrong with using the odometer reading again?

    Sure I can drive in other states, but I can buy my gas in other states too. It seems reasonable and non intrusive.

  • avatar

    Gas tax revenues support general fund spending in California, and I’m sure it’s not much different in Oregon. there is plenty of tax money available for maintenance and expansion of our highway system; however, it is getting worse and worse for two reasons: 1) the stealing of gas taxes to pay for social programs, et al. and 2)the inability to build or expand roads due to environmental road blocks. I’m not accusing environmental groups of throwing up all of the road blocks, either. Environmental regulations are a boon to NIMBY home owner groups as well.

  • avatar

    I disagree with the fundamental premise that road costs should be paid for mainly through a gas tax, or through a standardized per-mile road fee. Road costs should be paid for out of general funds, without regard to the amount raised by a gas tax.

    On the flip side, government should collect all taxes and fees, other than income taxes, on the basis of the social costs imposed by the taxed behavior — this is the reason for a gas tax. All such taxes would go into the general fund, and be supplemented by an income tax. All government spending would then come out of the general fund. If you are driving a small electric car on a country road late at night, you are not (I am assuming) causing any measurable wear and tear on the roads, you are not emitting pollution, and you are not contributing to traffic congestion. You should therefore pay no incremental taxes on that trip.

    Imagine that the above drive would profit you $10 net of your personal expenses, but that if a per-mile road fee was in place, you’d be stuck with an $11 charge. That fee would make the difference between going on the drive and not going — and everyone is worse off. The government gets no revenue, and you forgo the $10. Had the government waived the $11 fee, it would have lost nothing (because, as we assumed above, your particular trip imposes no social costs) and made you better off, because you would have earned $10. The government would then at least have a chance to take an income tax from that!

    But the road exists, and somebody has to pay for it, and the motorist is benefitting from it, right? Yes — but it should be paid for out of general revenues. The thing about a road is that it will exist 24 hours a day, whether you drive on it or not (again, assuming that small, light cars create no measurable wear-and-tear), so why push the driver who only stands to profit $10 off the road? A doctor on a housecall, who stands to make $100 from a similar drive, would still take to the road, but our $10 delivery boy stays home and does nothing, which helps nobody.

    But there is still a lot to tax, automotively. There is probably a good case for a fairly substantial gas tax, on the notion that using gasoline contributes to pollution, international conflict, and all the rest. There is probably a good case for time-of-day highway and road tolling, geared to rush hour. When the roads are congested, each additional car does add to everyone else’s costs, and that should be passed on back to the driver. There is probably a good case for taxing heavy trucks in some way or another (via the diesel fuel tax, a per-mile fee, highway tolls, and/or something else) to account for the wear and tear they cause.

    When you tax someone on the basis of the costs he is imposing on society, you are discouraging excessive cost-imposition and raising the revenue needed to help remedy the problem. When you instead tax someone on the basis of the benefit you think he is getting from an activity, you are simply confiscating wealth. Government can do that, but it should do it in a fair and careful way. Doing confiscation entirely through the income tax, and eliminating it from all other taxes, is probably the best way to harness it and control it.

    Government should also make the necessary tradeoffs between taxing every cost-imposing act exactly right, and the costs of administration. If a per-mile fee is only going to raise, on average, about $100 per car per year, one must ask if the infrastructure and enforcement costs are worth it (let alone the social costs and privacy concerns), instead of simply raising the registration fee by a like amount, or raising the income tax by a tiny fraction, or some other such method.

  • avatar

    California has, or at least used to have, a simple way to offset lost fuel taxes from all-electric cars, a surcharge on the annual registration fee.

    No system is perfectly fair, but that one is at least simple and non-intrusive.

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