by James Ray Deaton 1/31/15
In California the shortest route from the gas pump to the taxpayer’s wallet may soon include a government mandated GPS unit under the hood. California needs more money for it’s crumbling highways, roads and bridges and is considering new and diverse ways to (yet again) raise taxes.
Recent news articles report that the state is considering a plan to charge motorists on a per-mile-driven basis instead of the old, boring, and apparently insufficient, pay at the pump gas tax. The news reports often read more like government press releases that justify revenue enhancements rather than any kind of critical analysis.
In a story last weekend the San Jose Mercury News quotes Gov. Jerry Brown saying “We’re going to have to find another way to finance the upkeep of the roads,” but doesn’t explore why “another way” is so necessary. Yes, there is a multi-billion dollar backlog of road maintenance and the story points to falling gas tax revenues due to things such as better gas mileage vehicles and electric cars which lead to lower gasoline sales.
But did anyone ask the governor why “another way” is needed? What about just raising the already in place (since 1923) traditional gas tax? Later in the story it’s noted that the state’s 36 cents per gallon gas tax hasn’t been increased since 1994 because of “political opposition.” Wow! “Political opposition” has prevented raising the tax for the past twenty years, so now we’ll mandate GPS tracking units for all vehicles and get a monthly bill in the mail for miles driven.
Do you think there might be just a wee bit of opposition, political and otherwise to that plan?
Some interest behind the fee per mile driven plan may be simply that we have this new GPS technology so why not use it. It seems modern and techno-smart and very 21st century. But this tracking technology also seems unnecessarily complicated and intrusive. Like my dear sainted mother use to tell us kids: “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.”
Other questions arise. Could roadway funding come from other, less technologically intrusive sources? Is the current gas tax revenue used exclusively (100%) for road maintenance? Are some of the monies siphoned off for other state needs or diverted into the general fund? Are bike-paths, walkways, greenways and transit projects funded by gas taxes? If so, could other funding sources be found in the state budget for those needs? These kinds of questions are not usually explored in “press release” reporting.
The article also (optimistically?) states the new pay-per-mile plan will “replace” the traditional pay at the pump gas tax. Really? Call me a “glass is half empty,” “no faith in humanity” “tiny-hearted” cynic, but why do I have a suspicion that the current gas tax may be reduced a bit, but never totally repealed. It doesn’t have to be either or. What do you think are the odds that more than one Sacramento politician would like to keep some part of the pay at the pump tax in addition to the pay as you go plan?
A 15-member study panel recently named (God help us) the “California Road Charge Pilot Program Technical Advisory Committee” is said to be ready to “explore every angle and receive wide public and media scrutiny.”
The panel was chosen by the California Transportation Commission, but who sits on this panel is not discussed. Media scrutiny about the panel itself seems a bit anemic other than you get the idea that folks on the panel are very very smart, seriously serious, and absolutely dedicated to their task.
But it’s safe to say, just as a general rule, that any group of un-elected, appointed experts called the “California Road Charge Pilot Program Technical Advisory Committee” will probably not make life easier for anyone.
The acronym for their committee is the “CRCPPTAC.” What could possibly go wrong? Their motto should be “We’re from the CRCPPTAC and we’re here to help!”
And let’s not even think about the old joke that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. That just wouldn’t be right. • (917 views)