Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Conserve gasoline so that we can tax you more? Makes perfect sense if you are a Statist

According to the Wall Street Journal, for the second straight month the number of miles driven by Americans has declined in the face of high gas prices: 1.8% in April, 3.7% in May. That's 5.5% in two months, nationwide--in the East the cutback has actually been higher [see map]. (I believe that's also called the impact of market forces.)

If you read or listen to automotive ads, they're trying to give the damn things away now. I just saw a VW Beetle on a car lot on Kirkwood Highway with a sticker in the window offering no money down and 2.9% financing for 72 months. That's six years, right?

What this all means to the government, however, is less tax money for highway maintenance and mass-transit projects:

"We were losing ground to these incredible increases in construction costs, but then to see the erosion in driving -- it's a double whammy," said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. On top of the federal gasoline tax, currently 18.4 cents a gallon, the states charge their own gasoline taxes, which are typically slightly above the federal rate.

Obviously, this will lead to the government scrambling to find any number of revenue enhancements in order to repave roads, repair bridges, and construct new light rail systems (when the only functioning passenger rail system in the country can only survive through massive taxpayer subsidies).

Or, as in North Carolina [reported by Big Bend Bikers for Freedom], the government could take it out on mo-ped riders.

A lot of people are suddenly ditching their cars in favor of gas-sipping mopeds. There goes car registration money, vehicle transfer taxes, gas tax revenues.... What to do, what to do?

What to do is to manufacture BS fears that untrained mo-ped riders are a potential safety hazard on the roads, so that then you can justify passing legislation that forces them to take a $130 training class.

See, here's the problem: the so-called public sector is not an honest broker--and this is not something that can be blamed on Dubya.

For decades a variety of government policies have been put into place that both passively and actively encouraged Americans to consume more and more fuel. Then the same government based highway and bridge-building decisions on models of fuel consumption (and therefore tax revenues) that would keep expanding forever.

In the process they've let the nation's transportation infrastructure decay to an alarming point:

About 25% of bridges in the U.S. are either "functionally obsolete" or "structurally deficient," like the Mississippi River bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis last August, killing 13 people.

Moreover, the pavement is rated "not acceptable" on one of every seven miles of the nation's roads, according to the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, whose job is to assess infrastructure problems and recommend fixes.

Overall, the commission estimated, $225 billion a year is needed to meet the country's transportation infrastructure needs. Current spending is about 40% of that level.

Curious question that I don't see answered anywhere: There are a small but statistically significant number of toll roads and bridges across the country, some owned by the government, some in a public/private partnership, and some actually owned by private enterprise. I wonder what kind of shape, comparatively speaking, are the parts of our transport infrastructure which have been paid for primarily with user fees?

You're probably not going to find that answer, either.

But in the meantime, expect any number of nanny state assertions that because you've started conserving energy it's time for you to pay more taxes.

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