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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Toll Roads vs Fuel Tax vs "Miles Driven" tax

Here in TX there is a raging debate (raging at least among the gubernatorial candidates for next Spring's primary election to their party's nomination) about how to balance the desire [need] for more new roads and road repairs with the public's desire not to pay for it. Some suggest that toll roads would be "fair" since the people who used the specific roads would pay the cost via the the tolls that threw in. Others see adding to the state gas (fuel) tax as a more efficient way to collect the money without slowing down traffic on specific roads, and incidentally modifying what would otherwise be people's choices on line-of-travel.
Conventional wisdom is that it sure would be good to find a way for "the other guy" to pay these costs rather than me. This flows from similar successful efforts to fund public improvements with OPM financing ("Other People's Money"). This was fabulously popular here in San Antonio in May, 2008 when we voted to continue and/or increase the taxes on hotel rooms and car rentals in the city to pay for improvements to the Riverwalk and local soccer fields. Bring on the public improvements that will make life in San Antonio better, and since that might also lure a few out of town conventioners, make them pay for it.
Unfortunately, there's no OPM to be had when it comes to road improvements. Yes, we can indeed tax visitors and business persons traveling through TExas if we employ toll roads or gas taxes either one. But that shotgun approach also means that shudder Texans will also be burdened with those taxes and fees.
All of this "begs the question" on a couple of points:
  1. What's the most efficient way to collect the needed money? Toll roads require traffic to slow down to deposit the loot. They also, as mentioned above, can change people's minds about using certain roads if some are tolled and others are not. People will go a little out of their way to save a penny.
  2. More roads create more suburban sprawl. Do we really want that? Is that preferable to renovating and renewing urban areas where we've got adequate existing roads. (Oh yeah, those roads would then have to be maintained better -- never mind).

And now the political operatives are floating a supposed NEW third method for raising money. It would involve, as I understand it, having people pay a tax on the elapsed miles driven on their odometers of their cars. But how does that differ in effect from the gas tax? A gas tax is higher for people who drive more miles. But a gas tax discourages gas guzzler cars in ways the "miles driven" tax wouldn't.

Makes your hair hurt, don't it?

Sunday, December 20, 2009


The networks and cable news channels won't do it. But somebody ought to remind everyone of the meaning of and the rightful place of "compromise" in the political setting.
This weekend the US Senate has apparently reached a compromise on the health care bill that is claimed to be backed up by 60 Democratic votes. We'll see. The actual votes are scheduled later today and in the coming days.
But even if the Senate bill passes, we are a long way from final legislation getting signed by the president. The Senate compromise contains provisions that liberal House Dems had previously said would be deal breakers. So there is still some compromising to occur if agreement is to be reached.
And if those who are commenting are accurate and honest then the chasm still to be bridged is quite wide. Several important votes on opposite sides of the debate have declared that they will not move beyond certain specific lines drawn in the sand. And the "No Man's Land" appears large.
So, do people on both sides prefer no bill to one that violates whatever mandate they've declared must be met? Perhaps. They seem to act as if a "no decision" is a valid fall-back position if they can't round up enough votes to support their preferred position. Such thinking, however, seems to me to be faulty. Keeping the status quo in the absence of a bill is not a "no decision". It is a conscious action to allow current unencumbered powers to proceed as they wish. Costs will rise without the benefit of extending coverage. Insurance companies will feel empowered to act with impunity. (After all, if they were not suppose to protect their own interests and profits then Congress would have passed something addressing the question, right?)
It reminds me of football teams that play a weak zone defense. They are fine as long as the other team runs pass plays where they have adequate coverage. But the other teams don't play fair, do they? No, they run the play to the "seam" of the zone coverage. They throw the pass to right where the zone defenders each think his neighboring partner defender will take over.
But, back to the health care debate. I hope a compromise does get worked out. A compromise bill, even if called a "bad bill" by extremists on both ends of the debate, would represent an improvement over the status quo. Take what the defense gives you. Kick your field goal and wait for a later opportunity to sneak in a touchdown. That's my game plan.