Saturday, February 20, 2010

Gas Tax

Shell Gas Station in Hiroshima, Japan. Public domain by Frank Gualtieri, God rest his soul

Thank you Lord, for helping me clean house of hypocrisy! I've realized a hole in my thinking (willful or otherwise) regarding taxation, and am seeking to partially address it here:

One of the fundamental dilemmas of government is that you need to pay for government services. Not everybody wants these services, and not everybody believes in them. In a way, to enact laws and taxes is to steal from those who would never spend their money that way. But stuff does still need to get built.

But I do see one way out of this moral quandary: what if you provide for certain less crucial (but still highly beneficial) government services such as freeway construction with usage taxes? Now there are two traditional ways to tax a freeway: a toll and a gas tax.

A toll involves setting up certain payment stations where in order to use that section of the road, you must pay the fee. Then you may drive a certain distance on it. The trouble with tolls is unless they are equitably applied across the whole landscape (something that will never happen - politicians love to make deals with each other) they will create distortions in traffic patterns as people seek to avoid (as always) paying the tax.

A gas tax involves adding a little bit to the cost of fuel to pay for the roadway that's been built and is being maintained. You pay it to the exact degree that you use it, and the only avoidance method is purchasing more fuel-efficient vehicles, which we currently give tax deductions for anyways and is a fundamentally beneficial behavior. And before you ask, a gas tax high enough could pay for the entire road system, though it should ONLY be used to pay for the road system or any expenses related to gas consumption and cars, such as maintenance of any publcily-owned oil pipelines (do they exist?) and proper enforcement of various regulations and laws (such as State Patrol speeding cops) related to the two.

These roads have to be paid for one way or another, and paying for it with a gas tax puts the cost ONLY on those who use the roads and only to the degree to which they use them. This seems to be very fair and equitable, and avoids stealing from anyone. It also puts the cost of maintaining a freeway grid squarely on those who use it, with those who benefit the most paying the most.

Now on the flip side, there's a less traditional method as well: Car GPS tags, but the enforcment cost would be huge and it might not be difficult to mess with them. It would give a more accurate measure then gas consumption for sure, but the cost of building the national surveillance system required for such a thing is tremendous and enforcing such a thing on a population that would surely try to avoid it with transceivers that are themselves very technologically complicated and thus, breakable, is tremendous. Still, it is something to think about, and I guess electrocution hazard could keep some people from messing around.


FaithfulinPrayer said...

I wouldn't mind the gas tax except for two possible problems. If it gets used only for those roadway expenses. However, the power that be tend to take the money and use it for other purposes.

#2 we should see a dip in our income tax in direct relation to the rise in gas tax.

#3 God forbid the GPS idea! I don't think I would want the federal government to know where I'm at at all times.

Clockwork Kitten said...

Um, as far as I'm aware, there's already Tax on gas, it's just included in the price you see on the sign. If you look at the machines while you're pumping, it shows you a breakdown of what you're actually paying for. The tax on gas is like 0.3 cents or something per gallon, I believe. You can double check this if you'd like, but I've seen it many times at various gas stations.

Clockwork Kitten said...

To add to my previous comment: In fact, if I remember correctly, there's like three taxes on gas. One for federal, one for state, and another one for something regarding the oil industry, like a processing fee or something. I'm not entirely sure as I'm working off memory here, but check out a pump next time you're standing there. There's a small diagram somewhere on it that gives you the breakdown of associated fees involved in purchasing gas.

Jeremy Janson said...

@CK: You're quite correct, but here I'm momentarily detaching from what currently exists to what should exist, and I feel what should exist is a gas tax that covers the entire cost of building and maintaining highways and freeways and possibly services related to cafrs and gasoline.

@FIP: That's basically the idea, although the Federal Government has such a huge deficit that I think coupling it with a freeze on spending would probably be more effective. At the state level, however, the gas tax I feel should be coupled with a proportional decline in property tax, which is inherently a violation of the basic rights of a property owner should they ever be unable to pay it, and thoroughly unworkable otherwise.

I should've added this to the article, but the GPS system could be done differentially so as to not actually know where you are but simply how you moved. It could only track tangent vectors and magniudes. But yes, if it used a record of the exact points, rather then merely your ID and a Final - Initial, which was discarded recursively as you travel leaving only the number of miles in memory storage, then that would be a serious violation of privacy.