The Big Think

April 30, 2014

Taking a Toll

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 9:49 pm

Step 1: federal mandates in the form of new CAFE and mileage standards on automobiles (in addition to encouraging electric cars, hybrids, and other high mileage cars).

Step 2: forecast a drastic reduction in tax revenue being brought in from the decrease in tax revenue from not selling as much gas.

Step 3: have a bright idea: let’s toll the interstate highway system.

“So I am happy to see that the transportation bill (titled the Grow America Act[you’re not against GROWTH, are you?]) that Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is recommending to Congress includes a provision to “eliminate the prohibition on tolling existing free Interstate highways, subject to the approval of the Secretary, for purposes of reconstruction, thus providing States greater flexibility to use tolling as a revenue source for needed reconstruction activities on all components of their highway systems. This section would allow any State or public agency to impose variable tolls on existing highways, bridges, or tunnels for purposes of congestion management, subject to the approval of the Secretary.”

In principle, it sounds reasonable (don’t all these things.. in principle?): if you use the road, you pay. But this is the same logic that gave us the “you pay for cable TV so you don’t get any commercials!” argument that soon succumbed to the siren song of commercial revenue. Besides, it’s hard to raise gas taxes (it requires, literally, an act of Congress). Raising tolls? Something we’re acculturated to. This year: a mere penny per mile. Next year: .0125 (look at how small that is!). But over time, this horrible idea will become yet another massive tax that loads us down. And who wants to bet that they’ll just add this on top of the current gas taxes?

Speaking of which. A report today determined that the average American household spends more on complying with federal regulations than on health care, food, and transportation:

Crews estimates the annual cost of compliance with the record number of new federal rules and regulations issued under President Obama at $1.863 trillion.

That works out to a $14,974 “hidden tax” every year for the average U.S. household. That’s 23 percent of the $65,596 annual average household income in America.

In fact, if Federal compliance costs alone were a stand-alone nation, they would comprise the 10th biggest economy on earth. That’s a tremendous fiscal anchor attached to our economy.

Thought experiment: is there a number in gross tax revenues when the government says “no thanks, we have enough”?

There is always a reasonable excuse. There is always a vocal constituency. But what can’t go on forever, won’t.

UPDATE: from the comments on the first link:

jmatt55 • a day ago
They raised gas taxes so people bought fuel efficient cars. Then they implemented tolls and people will simply drive less. What’s next? A tax on not leaving the house?

JBD jmatt55 • 21 hours ago
Oklahoma is working on a fee for NOT using electricity. So if we’re getting taxed and charged for what we do not do what is next? It’s getting surreal.

Another Brad jmatt55 • a day ago
They can tax you for not buying insurance, so why not? You can pay the tolls or, if you don’t meet minimum mileage requirements, pay a yearly fee in your tax return.

Ah! A tax on economic inactivity. What hath the ACA wrought? This.

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