Miles to go before I ... pay?

According to today's edition of O-No!, the Powers that Be are increasingly looking at the so-called VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) tax as a way to offset declining gas tax revenues.

Talk of a Vehicle Miles Traveled tax has long been discussed as a necessity in a decade or so, because cars are becoming more fuel efficient, and states and the federal government are losing gas-tax revenue.

But there is now a sense of urgency about the new VMT tax. When gas hit $4 a gallon this summer, Americans sharply curtailed their driving. And when the economy cratered this fall, the driving rollback continued, even when gas prices plummeted.

We've discussed this previously, but at the time the concept seemed to be a non-starter based on comments from some well-placed insiders. Here are the basic arguments:

For the VMT

David Farren of the Southern Environmental Law Center said he supports a VMT tax. He said the tax would encourage people to live closer together, lessening the impact automobiles have on the environment. The government should not only encourage people to use less gas, but also to drive less, he said.

“The gas tax is good from an environmental perspective, because it directly taxes you based on how much you are polluting,” Farren said. “But there are other policy considerations based on water quality, and loss of open space.”

On the other hand:

Farren was critical of the transportation committee's study, saying it focused on finding new ways to get money instead of considering other ways to move people. “They want to continue a 1950s method of transportation,” Farren said. “They just throw money at old solutions, like beltways.”

I believe the VMT tax is a bad idea. For two reasons.

1. It's complicated. For the fairest applications, a new layer of technology will be required to manage all the billing customization - technology that comes at a cost both in terms of dollars and privacy.

2. It's regressive. People living in rural areas, who tend in general to have lower incomes, have to travel farther in almost every aspect of their lives - going to the grocery store, to school, to work, to church, wherever.

The dozen or so people I know who would be disproportionately affected by the VMT are already stuck between a rock and a hard place. Those who rent can't afford to relocate to more urban areas where prices are prohibitive. Those who own their homes are mostly underwater, with no hope of selling their homes in the near to mid-term. Farren's notion that the VMT would encourage people to live close together, while commendable in concept, seems dangerously naive at a time when people are up against the economic wall.

Comments

I hadn't given this much thought

Until you posted this. When I first looked at the vote you posted, I thought - goodness, of course it's a good idea.

Then when I thought about it a little more, I realized that I agree with you. The cost of enforcing and collecting the tax would be foolish, and would not encourage me or many of my neighbors to move. Where I live, I could not feasibly walk to any of the places I usually go. Public transportation is non-existent, and would not really be feasible here because of the distance between people and places.

You're dead-on about the housing situation as well. We are not in the position to move closer to other people, because it is too expensive for us to do. Even in this rural area, the closer you get to the business center, the more expensive, and smaller, the homes.

As for selling homes - my brother has had his 3 bedroom house on the market for over a year. They have dropped the price to the lowest possible level, and haven't even had any one look for well over 2 months. It's bad out there.

We have to encourage more fuel efficiency, and make driving have less impact on the environment. The VMT sounds like an idea whose time has passed.

Bad on balance

VMT leaves the rural resident and any business which depends on driving or long-haul transportation with no way to reduce their costs. It's a disincentive to the implementation of fuel-saving measures such as purchase of more fuel-efficient vehicles.

If the impetus for consideration of a VMT is declining gas tax revenues, there's a simpler and fairer solution than VMT which does not share its disadvantages--raise the gas tax.

The only reason to believe that a VMT would be more politically palatable than a gas tax increase is the cynical assumption that fewer people would (initially) understand what was being done. On a raw political basis, that might even be correct. But is that a sound basis on which to make public policy?

Dan Besse

More and more ways to tax

This entire line of thought is ridiculous, really. I mean, let's talk honestly here, folks. If your family suddenly began bringing in less money because of a lay off or because of a change in a job that paid less money or whatever...what do you do? Don't you cut expenses? Don't you reduce your expenditures? Don't you buy things that cost less...or buy less things?

When government receives less, it must react like a family that receives less. Yes, the necessities have to be covered, but who among us doesn't believe there is a lot of fat in government? When have you heard much about government "consolidating"...(yeah, someone will give me some exception/example, I'm ready for it).

Time for government to get frugal with our tax dollars rather than expecting we taxpayers to get frugal to have to make sure our government doesn't have to "watch the penny".

The best thinking is independent thinking.

Do you really

buy that good ol' GOP line about meeting all our public needs by cutting "waste, fraud, and abuse"?

I've got some great land in Florida to sell you.

No, government is not like a family. Government has responsibilities to all the families. Sometimes meeting those responsibilities requires increasing a tax so that everyone in the community doesn't get badly hurt because a critical need isn't met.

Even the GOPs and the Libs would acknowledge that the old "just don't spend it" argument falls through when you're talking about a genuine national defense need. The difference is that they believe (or pretend to believe, in some cases, knowing they'll be outvoted and can have it both ways politically) that a functioning transportation network or public schools are things we can do without.

Now--if you have real numbers to show that we can meet our genuine transportation needs on the money coming in from current tax rates, bring 'em out. Don't play games with tired rhetoric and fantasy arguments.

Dan Besse

No, of course I don't buy that

I don't know where that is coming from...the GOP, so far as I know, doesn't believe that we can "meet all our public needs by cutting waste, fraud and abuse". I'm thinking the operative word here is "all", isn't it? If you can show us how the GOP believes that, maybe you can get me to switch parties. Remember..."all" is the important word, okay?

No, I'm with ya on the fact that our government's finances aren't exactly like a family's budget. But, the theory is the same. It's a bit simple, I admit, but let's all be honest here, Dan, the government can't continue to turn a blind eye to overspending and paying out higher than normal expenditures for work done and materials in the face of reduced revenues. No, I don't have specific examples...so don't try to argue this asking for them. I think most of the readers here know the deal with government contracts and purchases...with exceptions certainly.

It's time for government to get thrifty, that's my point...just as a family would have to get thrifty in lean times.

Please stop with the "real numbers" kinda thing. This isn't a debate contest. It's about opinions and the like.

The best thinking is independent thinking.

Informed opinions

True, but opinions informed by data carry more weight. One of the things that always make scharrison's posts so persuasive is that he cites numbers, data, and details to back up his arguments.

I'm not always as good about that. On this issue, for example, you might effectively challenge my view that increased revenue is needed--if you put forward a list of expensive boondoggles included in the demand projections. There are almost certainly some low-hanging fruits to be found in roads!

Dan Besse

No need

As I said...I perfer to post my opinions. I honestly don't feel we here need to put forth links/sites and so forth for everything we say either as an original subject or in rebuttal.

I know most don't do that, and you admit you don't either.

It's just real easy to say "where's the proof" and "cite facts and proof of them" when people disagree with you so as to make them have to go to Google or Ask.com or some other search engine...then when they come up with what they consider "proof" it is then questioned as biased or some other site shows some other information and on and on it goes and where it stops, nobody knows.

As I said, I prefer not to get caught up in all that. If you want to post references on sites and other sources showing facts for everything you say or whenever you disagree with someone here, be my guest.

The best thinking is independent thinking.

well

At least you're honest about wanting to only post your opinion. You'll just have to understand that your reasons for your opinion will be questioned, particularly on an issue where some disagree with your opinion.

And of course, we've all got opinions. :)

Don't we all mostly post just opinions?

I've read a large number of posts on this blog on a wide range of issues. The majority of the posts I've read over the past few weeks and going back to many past ones tonight have just opinion with little-to-no real facts presented.

Linda, I welcome questions about why I feel a certain way (that's what we do here, isn't it?) but I'm betting you know what I'm talking about on the "give me numbers" game on blogs. That can and does become a never-ending series of posts back and forth that no one wins. Sure, I agree that people should give their reasons for their opinions, but my problem is with "give me numbers" and so forth (which I was asked to do in this thread). I could do that on many of the posts I've read going back a way to see how people posted here...but, no one did that. All of a sudden, for some reason (maybe because I'm an old "conservie", who knows) I'm being asked for more than most folks here. I know the argument that Dan makes that it makes for a better post if facts/numbers/proof etc. is presented...but, here again, we're more about opinion here vs. statistical quantification, aren't we?

The best thinking is independent thinking.

You're painting with a broad brush

I'd say most posts here are linked to a news story which reports either a new development or an analysis of some kind. The posts often contain opinions, but just as often do not. Increasingly, I'm finding myself asking questions.

Lots of people appear to have opinions about the VMT for example. But some opinions are more equal than others. A person who cites credible sources is more likely to shape the opinions of others than a person who just pipes in with whatever he or she is thinking at the time. Also, people who are known have more influence than people who are anonymous. Dan Besse is one of the state's leading environmentalists - a person many of us backed for lieutenant governor. We've learned over the last year that what he says is usually well-thought through and grounded in years of experience and knowledge.

That said, the Internet is one of the great equalizers. People are known first and foremost by what they "say" in their comments and posts.

Over the years, I've seen people change their positions dramatically on issues because of compelling arguments put forth by others. That's happened to me personally on several occasions. Sometimes "opinions" serve to accomplish that kind of change, but more often it's solid sources of evidence.

Doing a quick Googly to drum up some fact can help, but the source of those facts matters. "Facts" coming from the John Locke Foundation, for example, have to be taken with a shaker of salt. Same with CATO, Heritage, and other think tanks that tend to shape reality to fit their ideology.

I like to think we've matured around here, become more pragmatic in some ways. But then again, we could just be kidding ourselves.

Please see the bottom of the page

I'm going to post my response to you there so that the column doesn't become ridiculously thin. :)

The idea that taxing our mileage would force us to live closer

together is not only naive, it is completely and utterly stupid.

I don't see the family farmers I live around packing up and moving into Charlotte so that they don't have to drive so far to get to the grocery store or so that they have access to public transportation and light rail. Not every county is created equal. We have no public transportation options in Union County. There is transport for disabled residents only. (Maybe elderly)

I live in a rural area and chose to move out here so that we would have land to garden/farm and could plant fruit trees and be a little closer to "living off the land." We wanted land to care for - land that wouldn't have concrete poured over it in our lifetimes. My mileage has actually decreased since moving so far out because I run all my errands on the same day. The state will make less money off of me when compared to my life in Mecklenburg.

So, this lightweight thinks it is OK to penalize those of us who live out in the country when we are already penalized by having no public transportation options to begin with. I moved out here knowing I didn't have these options, so I don't expect them. Most people in eastern Union County were born here. They are here because it is home. It is a way of life. They shouldn't be penalized simply because they are farmers, raise poultry and breed cattle. They won't move, but they will raise prices on their crops if they can or they will sell out to a developer for millions so that more concrete can be poured on family farms.



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Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Farren's ok.

David's a good guy, very thoughtful. This is just one policy item disagreement. I think he's just putting too much weight on the anti-sprawl effect from VMT in future housing selection by suburbanites, and not giving enough credit to the alternative. It's true enough that any of the options for encouraging energy efficiency in transportation have the likelihood of being rougher on those who live in rural areas and must drive long distances. He would probably argue that the farmer and other business driver can deduct those expenses, so the burden spreads out more generally. Even if so, though, I would still contend the gas tax is a better option for my original reasons.

Dan Besse

I've been a steady supporter of SELC

this is the first "huh?" moment I've had. And I'm sad to report, "huh?" moments can be fatal to ongoing contributions. At a time when everyone's cutting back everything, we all make tough choices about which organizations and candidates we'll give money to and which we won't.

There are a lot of good guys

who think and say very stupid things.

Farmers can't deduct trips to the grocery store. Farmers can't deduct mileage on farm vehicles that are used for personal use. Not everyone living in rural areas are farmers. I simply used that as an example.



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Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

For some of the reasons SELC gave

the VMT is bad. I do not like the idea of any group of people trying to convince me to live in a way other then how I am. I hate being a lemming. Being "encouraged" to live closer to someone else so I can take advantage of the car pooling option. Sorry, very bad sell. Throws me off of that bus quickly and I will never look back at it.

Now the practicality of what was brought up is out there. The gasoline powered car is going to go away and the next thing that replaces it will probably not have a service station to tie a tax to. So how are we going to pay for the roads that gets our goods from the fields to the store to my tummy? That is a problem. With so much money in taxes going to the various governments, it is hard to accept any government (local, state, federal) if they are spending our money wisely could not have money.

While there was gas powered cars, it was a no-brainer to tax the fuel the vehicles used. As SELC points out, we are being smarter with our consumption and are not buying as much anymore. We also demand to have better roads. An impasse.

What is going to need to happen is the way we collect and allocate money has got to change. a zillion rice bowls out there is not smart. A zillion people trying to protect their rice bowls from a zillion people trying to grab a few grains from each others rice bowls is not a smart method of money management.

Get rid of these rice bowls. Get rid of graft. Parmea, just how do you intend to get rid of graft? Simple, put the books of every government on the internet. Anyone can look at any book and question anything. When you see a check for $1000 going to Ray the Shady-Hand each month from a county commissioner, you can ask, and the rational for the payment must be made available. Hell, give the explanation why up front. The Boss Hoggs of government will quickly force themselves out of office and people who care for others vice their own pockets will levitate to those positions. This is upfront accountability. I firmly belief in, of the people by the people for the people. Nothing should be a secret when it comes to money. NOTHING. You wish to deal with a government, your finances will be on display. If you do not like that, do not get into a partnership with the government.

When that happens, a lot of the junkets, dumb ideas, and bridges to nowhere will go away. When that goes away, there will be more money in the coffers to fix our roads, pay for our teachers, provide for health care and make our quality of life better.

Maybe...

...they could just reduce their expenditures. I'll bet that never occurred to them. Instead it's "we're going to get our highway money no matter what".

Good idea

But it's not in the cards.

Too many people have too much money to make in the road building business. Fred Smith, for example, former candidate for governor and now hoping to be the chair of the NCGOP, made millions being a government contractor. The entire real estate lobby, along with the homebuilder crowd, wants road, roads and more roads.

Sorry...

Nice try. The Dems are running the show and have been for decades. It's they who are beholden to the road builders and vice versa.

I don't disagree

I just pointed out one multi-millionaire bottom-feeder who happens to be in the GOP.

The Democratic Party's complicity in the Great Roadbuilding Scam is no doubt equally odious ... I just don't have the names of those who've benefited. Feel free to enlighten.

And it's funny

I am amused that the only name you could remember off the top of your head was a Republican and that was the one you reflexively mentioned.

Reflexively?

Hardly. I thought long and hard about Mr. Smith ... have done so for a couple of years. He epitomizes the "get rid of gummint" crowd who all the while lines his pockets at the public trough.

But then again, I truly do live to amuse you, Locobreath. So take it anyway you want.

We have an opportunity to cut costs.

For years we have been paving every surface in North Carolina. That process is now at an end. We have paved every road that folks want paved. What we NEED to do with that money is start the repaving that we have put off for so long. We could cut costs in the state by doing away with new roads and increasing the amount of cost-cutting repaving.

I don't have the exact figures so let me speak in generalities. A road has several layers. What we are supposed to do is repave it once the first layer is destroyed. This costs $X per foot of roadway. Because of how we have been dealing with highway funds and spending, we have allowed layer 1 and layer 2 to be destroyed. Now, it costs $5X per foot of roadway to repair them.

Once again, we've allowed ourselves to be dug into a big hole. We have to spend a LOT of money to get all those 5X roads back to X roads. At the same time, many other roads are now being worn down to layer 2 instead of being repaved.

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

Shockingly, we agree

Presumably, if people are driving less then that lessens the need for new road projects. Congestion should be down. So live within the money you have and fix the roads you have.

There are already considerable (and costly)

disincentives in place for putting a lot of miles on your car, such as depreciation of value and more frequent service/repair expenditures. Trying to justify VMT as a behavioral modifier is ignoring these factors, and it's also ignoring what brought about this revenue shortfall in the first place: people are driving a lot less.

It is a regressive approach to collecting revenue, and James is correct when he calls the idea of people relocating naive. I've been in my house (buying) for 13 years. I was only 7 miles away from where I worked, but that's over now. When I do a job search and put in a 25 mile radius, I get about 150 hits. When I put in 50 miles, I get over 600 hits.

Of the jobs I've applied for in the last three months, most of them have been around 40 miles away. And I'm one of the lucky ones. In this economic environment, we of the 7% are looking at a pretty long commute to get back into the workforce, and we're going to have to take a job that pays (maybe substantially) less than what we had. So we're driving farther and making less, and adding a VMT on top of that is going to hurt, maybe badly. It may even cause us to choose something closer to home with less career potential and fewer benefits.

Back to the drawing board, folks.

word.

n/t

Truthfully, I'm becoming opposed to any new taxes.

Our city and county is inept and oblivious to either the needs or concerns of the citizenry. The school board, rather than focusing on better ways to educate our children, thinks they are social engineers. The city, starving for more dollars, plans to annex people without providing services but increasing their property taxes, on average, about $800 a year.

the state has been dipping in the highway funds for years to pay for other things...I guess like the tax breaks given to big industries...or the $4M to get Titan Cement to come here and pollute the hell out of our coastal and ground waters while destroying the limestone cap over our aquifer.

Here's where I am: these people need to look around and see that the people think they are mostly idiots...and dishonest idiots to boot. Do their damn jobs and do it without raising taxes.

Stan Bozarth

Bad idea. Just add 20 cents to the state gas tax.

Feds should do the same. Add a good chunk to the federal gas tax, while it's cheap. If oil/gas prices go back up, drop the tax increases, but meanwhile our infrastructure needs A LOT of work, jobs need creating and behaviors should not be allowed to backslide.
Ain't a politician out there with the guts to suggest it though.

I actively oppose gerrymandering. Do you?

This is the simple solution

for the interim. In the long run, what do you do when half of all vehicles are electric?

I wonder if that long-term thinking is part of this short-term trial balloon?

By then we might have something like

autopay toll roads. [total speculation follows] Each owner has a card they put in an easy to read spot in the front of the car. Something like an autopay toll booth (like they have north of the Mason-Dixon line) reads the miles logged and generates a monthly bill. Cell phone/gps technology could do something similar but bandwidth could be a problem.

But by the time half the cars are electric, odds are it won't be our problem to worry about. :)

I actively oppose gerrymandering. Do you?

When that happens

couldn't the gas tax be transferred to the electric bill? I'm assuming that the plug you charge your car with would be different than the plug that runs your TV.

Just phase out the gas tax and phase in the electric car outlet tax. That makes more sense to me.

And it's always a choice in how to pay

From left field (or a state further west)...

I'm struck by the fact that every time I hear of a raise in the gas tax (I know this is a mileage tax bear with me) proposed the argument is that it punishes the least wealthy disproportionately. The argument usually goes that the less wealthy folks can't afford to buy a more fuel efficient car so have to buy more gas so pay more tax. Oddly enough this proposal skirts that issue quite nicely. I drive large trucks for our local power company and know that here in Colorado semi's pay a ton/mile tax which is much like what yall are talking about. The argument for that is that heavier trucks and those running more miles do more damage to the roads so should compensate the state for that.

I haven't read the proposed law yall are talkin about. I would think that in a perfect world the mileage tax would be a more "fair" use tax than the gas tax IF properly structured. It would change who pays more for what and that means winners and losers and it's generally the folks whose contribution goes up that feel the need to challenge the fairness the most. (Wow do I win for a run on sentence competition there?)

I would LOVE to see my state with it's 3 or 4 directions of competing use taxes, gas taxes and ton/mile taxes along with sales taxes move to a direct ton/mile tax for everyone that would be revenue neutral in supporting the construction and maintenance of our roads. But then I'm a use tax fan except where it is an unfair burden on the low income folks.

That's my 2 cents, and may not apply but I just couldn't help myself.

On posting opinions - to Smitty

Smitty, of course I'm familiar with the "show me numbers" game that happens on blogs. I've played it a time or two, just to play the game. :) Sometimes it's the only way to get a response, and sometimes I actually learn something.

I'm glad you hang in there and post reasonable responses. I rarely agree with you, but I respect your right to your opinions. Please don't interpret any questions I ask as an attack, but as an attempt to understand where you're coming from.

Okay

Good deal.

Thanks.

See you all later...bedtime.

The best thinking is independent thinking.

A Story

The reason I have not responded to this thread is that I have been focused on finals and had no idea what a VMT was. I got a call from a friend of mine asking about it and came here to blog on it not realizing that this post was ongoing.

My friend lives here in Wilkes County. He has been offered a position at a firm in Clemmons (Forsyth County) making more money with better benefits. And we're not talking a huge salary here. Basically $40K per year to $48K per year.

A VMT would penalize him on top of the current gas tax. And with the economy in the shape it is in, I would guess that more and more people commuting farther and farther to find good jobs.

On a separate issue, what if my company send me to VA or SC for a month. I may put 1,000 miles on my car during that month while never driving on an NC highway. Employees would then expense the company for the tax.

My point is, the VMT amounts to double taxation and is a way for elected officials to raise the gas tax without having to say "I voted to raise the gas tax."

By the way, when the economy rebounds I am all for raising the gas tax and directing the increased revenue to alternative energy solutions.

The VMT, however, turns me off. It is a loser politically and practically.