Republican governor says the darnedest dumbest thing

posted at 3:45 pm on March 19, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Normally, I’m a fan of Tim Pawlenty.  He operates as conservatively as possible in a progressive state, and while that may not satisfy movement conservatives, his cool competence and political infighting skills have kept this state from becoming a midwestern California the past seven years.  But every once in a while, he makes a big misstep, and it’s difficult to defend him from well-deserved brickbats.

Like, say, today — as the Boss notes:

The cost of each gallon of gas includes 18.4 cents to fund federal highway programs, and another 25.5 cents for roads in Minnesota.

But as cars and trucks get better mileage, the gas tax isn’t keeping pace with the need for roads and road work. So another option is gaining traction in Minnesota — a high-tech mileage-based user fee.

“We realize that in the future, cars aren’t going to be powered by fuel, probably,” said Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who signed into law $5 million for the current biennium to study the mileage tax.

Pawlenty said the state is now working on a pilot program to try it out, with an eye toward cars that aren’t even on the road yet.

“They’re going to be powered by different things, perhaps including hydrogen fuel cells, potentially plug-in electrics, potentially other sources of energy,” Pawlenty said. “So we need to think about how we’re going to pay for transportation down the road.”

We erupted in anger when Barack Obama’s Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, trotted out this idea — and for good reason.  At the time, I pointed out the worst problems with this idea:

The mileage tax as a replacement for the gas tax is a bad idea on several levels.  First, collection of the gas tax is relatively easy and uncomplicated; it’s levied at the pump and requires no particular compliance for tens of millions of drivers nationwide. It costs the federal government very little to collect and its enforcement is limited to the much lower number of fuel stations, rather than all of the drivers and autos in the US.

LaHood’s suggestion would be an enforcement and logistical nightmare.  A mileage tax would require the installation of GPS equipment on every motor vehicle and an enforcement bureaucracy to ensure that drivers didn’t disable it.  The cost of the devices would run to the billions just on the initial rollout.  The Obama administration would have to spend more millions, if not billions, tracking the mileage on all of these cars.

The privacy implications are the worst aspect of the idea.  The government would have a database tracking all of our movements, at least those made in personal vehicles, for their use.  At the end of the year, when we had to account for this tax, we would have no practical way of challenging the government data on which we’d be taxed.  Can you imagine having to produce a record of every single car trip you took in 2008 for an audit?  The tax burden would only come at the end of the year, in a balloon payment.

All of that applies to a state mileage tax as well.  It doesn’t take a $5 million study to understand how much of a burden this would be on Minnesotans.  Had Governor Pawlenty invited me to the mansion, I could have explained it to him, and I’d have only needed a cup of coffee and a nice, light lunch.  I’d have even skipped the lunch.

The state wonders where it will get its revenue if gasoline becomes obsolete. I’d revert the tax to the energy sources, such as the sale of hydrogen fuel cells, hydrogen itself, car batteries, etc, just for the sake of practicality.  Better yet, maybe we can look at reductions in government spending instead of finding ways to replace the lost revenue.

A bad idea is a bad idea, no matter who proposes it.  Let’s kill this one before it grows.


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Why would it matter who owns the roads? If they abuse it somehow, it gets confiscated and sold off to someone else.
I guess this is where the capitalists part ways with the paranoid.

Count to 10 on March 19, 2009 at 5:04 PM

And this is capitalistic, how?

And it matters when someone owns American infrastructure who is unfriendly to our national interests. I don’t see how that’s paranoid.

theotherKate on March 19, 2009 at 5:07 PM

But then I hate driving so as far as I’m concerned, they can put a GPS chip in my forehead as long as I save 15 minutes in traffic per day.

NoDonkey on March 19, 2009 at 4:48 PM

Why do people think Pawlenty’s plan will save them any time in traffic?

Nobody likes sitting in traffic jams. People already regularly plan their day around rush hour traffic and work to avoid it, if at all possible.

Adding 5 or 10 cents a mile to their trip will accomplish nothing other than enriching greedy government.

RJL on March 19, 2009 at 5:10 PM

And this is capitalistic, how?

And it matters when someone owns American infrastructure who is unfriendly to our national interests. I don’t see how that’s paranoid.

theotherKate on March 19, 2009 at 5:07 PM

The confiscation? Nothing.
It is simply the fail safe against the anti-capitalistic meddling that you are flipping out over.

Count to 10 on March 19, 2009 at 5:15 PM

Why do people think Pawlenty’s plan will save them any time in traffic?

Nobody likes sitting in traffic jams. People already regularly plan their day around rush hour traffic and work to avoid it, if at all possible.

Adding 5 or 10 cents a mile to their trip will accomplish nothing other than enriching greedy government.

RJL on March 19, 2009 at 5:10 PM

Imagine every road privately maintained, and cars that will automatically give you the cheapest/safest/fastest/most comfortable rout to your destination.
Kiss government wast in transportation goodbye.

Count to 10 on March 19, 2009 at 5:17 PM

Pawlenty’s idead will pay for itself because it will diminish traffic by creating an incentive to drive at off peak times or to carpool, etc.

Dumb.

It’s a mileage tax that he’s proposing. Is my drive shorter when it’s faster? How does a tax on miles driven induce people to drive the SAME DISTANCE at non-peak times versus peak? I believe it’s 30 miles to my office at 10 am and 8am.

Smart.

The Race Card on March 19, 2009 at 5:20 PM

Count to 10 on March 19, 2009 at 5:15 PM

Count to 10 on March 19, 2009 at 5:17 PM

Who’s flipping out? I simply pointed out that having people who hate us owning roads is not a good thing. As to your assertion that we can

Kiss government waste in transportation goodbye.

I find your touching naïvety amusing and a little sad.

theotherKate on March 19, 2009 at 5:22 PM

As an engineer, I don’t see the problem with taxing by mileage. The problem, aside from the big brother tracking aspect, is that as electric vehicles come on line, the gasoline usage should decline, therefore robbing the government of a revenue source. Here is an easy fix:

1. Separate vehicles into classes- example A is 0-15mpg, B is 16-20 mpg, etc. This would be done by the manufacturer and coded into the VIN.

2. Everybody has to get a new tag or sticker every year (or the government loses another revenue stream). Simply have the tag agent enter the current mileage into the simple relational database that prints out a tax bill based on mileage and class of vehicle. The poor taxpaying chump pays up to get the tag or sticker renewal.

3. This would even negate CAFE standards because everybody would buy the most cost effective vehicle based on class. This would eliminate the expensive and intrusive GPS system for charging tax and the assult on civil liberties.

Of course, the tax , like the current tax, will not go to improve the transportation infrastructure of the whole country, but will help the subway systems in the big cities and the politician’s pockets.

I have never ceased being amazed at the abject stupidity of city/county/ and state level politicians and bureaucrats on solving problems like this. It is probably because most of them are uneducated patronage types, or listening to some peddler that has a new system that they must have. (by uneducated I mean anyone who went to higher education and did not take the math like an engineer.) The American people will get what they deserve (editorial).

Old Country Boy on March 19, 2009 at 5:32 PM

Ed,

Mostly I agree with you on this one. But this is bull:

“A mileage tax would require the installation of GPS equipment on every motor vehicle and an enforcement bureaucracy to ensure that drivers didn’t disable it. The cost of the devices would run to the billions just on the initial rollout.”

This need be no different than going in for emissions checks. Note down the current mileage as listed on the odometer. Then next year, note it again, and subtract. Voila, you have the annual miles. No GPS needed, nor anything of the kind. Simple existing equipment.

Regarding:
“The Obama administration would have to spend more millions, if not billions, tracking the mileage on all of these cars.”

and

“… an enforcement bureaucracy …”

Absolutely, these are true. No need to say ‘the Obama administration’ – government PERIOD can never do these things cheaply, well, or efficiently.

But let’s call an odometer an odometer.

Oh. And it will REALLY suck to get jabbed with this as a once-a-year fee, after doing the subtraction. But maybe that’s one good thing? Right now, we’re so well-conditioned, we pay that gas tax every few days and just consider it “the price of gas.” This will remind us that it’s an ugly price indeed.

One last thing – did he really say “We realize that in the future, cars aren’t going to be powered by fuel…”? Aren’t all of the other optional energy sources fuels of a sort, too? I mean, NOTHIN’ is FREE, guvner.

chautauqua on March 19, 2009 at 5:32 PM

Disregard me – now that I’ve read the comments, other smarter people beat me to the annual inspection punchline :)

chautauqua on March 19, 2009 at 5:37 PM

It’s a mileage tax that he’s proposing. Is my drive shorter when it’s faster? How does a tax on miles driven induce people to drive the SAME DISTANCE at non-peak times versus peak? I believe it’s 30 miles to my office at 10 am and 8am.

Same-distance mileage at different hours can make a big difference. Driving in stop-and-go traffic uses up a lot more gas than is used when driving at non peak times. So the above is a good point – you’re getting the mileage tax, but not the consumption tax.

NOW they have their excuse for making a new GPS-based device – a simple odometer has no time stamp, so they can’t screw you for driving during rush hour!

Mileage Tax + Consumption Tax + Ugly Car Sin Tax + Smoker Sin Tax + Lone-Driver Tax + All-Terrain Tire Tax + ……….

*sigh*

chautauqua on March 19, 2009 at 5:45 PM

No politician really cares about what time you drive, unless they can get a tax out of it. Since bicyclists use roads and sidewalks, and people use sidewalks, there is lost revenue. I bet those ditzes that spend all their time powerwalking use up more road surface than the teenager’s tire spinning. Lets implant a marxist\democrat pedometer in your ass and the tax man can read it once a year. They just want the revenue.

I think, to improve the revenue stream they should bring back pay toilets. I bet people will walk faster then!

Anothger suggestion would be the new simplified 1040. It has only two lines: 1. How much did you make last year? 2. Send it in.

Old Country Boy on March 19, 2009 at 5:59 PM

The state wonders where it will get its revenue if gasoline becomes obsolete.

This seems like a perfect opportunity to privatize the freeways.

You should totally suggest that to Pawlenty when you go for coffee.

apollyonbob on March 19, 2009 at 6:00 PM

I have contacted Mr. Pawlenty’s office and have requested that my honorable discharge pin be given back to me. Rino, get thee behind me!

MNDavenotPC on March 19, 2009 at 6:05 PM

“We realize that in the future, cars aren’t going to be powered by fuel, probably,”

Yeah, they’re going to be run on pyramid power, crystal resonances, and happy thoughts.

Socratease on March 19, 2009 at 6:36 PM

This idea proves the lie that is that increasing tax on gas would limit driving. “Its for the environment!”, they squealed.

Weeellll, get a high mileage car and suddenly, they shift to focus to miles driven. One would think they’d slap us all on the back for being soooooo green.

Not about the environment. Never was, never will be. It is about getting YOUR money from YOU.

kurtzz3 on March 19, 2009 at 6:37 PM

Put a GPS in my car; I get out a pair of wire cutters.

kurtzz3 on March 19, 2009 at 6:41 PM

Sorry, Ed, Minnesota a “progressive” state? Please… it’s nothing but far-left. Maybe a paler shade of wild than Cah-lee-fornya, but still way, way out there. I agree, however, that Pawlenty has done about the best one could do under his state’s Iron Curtain.

TXUS on March 19, 2009 at 7:15 PM

Normally, I’m a fan of Tim Pawlenty. He operates as conservatively as possible an appeaser in an progressive state islamic asylum within the US

Fixed it for ya.

peacenprosperity on March 19, 2009 at 7:52 PM

So, this is the true reason for satellite radio and navigation systems.

Hmmmm.

madmonkphotog on March 19, 2009 at 8:27 PM

Pawlenty is just another lib. Figure it out.

LibTired on March 19, 2009 at 8:35 PM

I’m not sure what the outrage is about. It makes sense to people using roads to pay for them. Why change all electric customers a tax to cover the roads?

I’m not saying it will be easy. Clearly, using gasoline consumption as a proxy for road use is an easier way to go. But looking to the future is not that bad an idea. You might find that a few hundred electronic “toll booths” would provide coverage of 99% of drivers if placed properly. I’m not saying they would just that they might. Couple than with an EZPass-like system that reports ID and mileage and your collection work is almost done. Billed to your toll account or to your home every other month. No details of your driving except the meters you passed through and your mileage.

Add a line to the state income tax for that has your mileage and you could use estimated payments through the year withheld as part of the State Income tax.

Lots of options that could be looked at that do not have a high cost on the user. Of course, this doesn’t capture funds from transient users from other states. Nothing is perfect.

That is why you study it BEFORE it is an issue. Instead of waiting until the bonuses are paid and taxing them back. But that is another story.

OBQuiet on March 19, 2009 at 8:44 PM

Am I the only one who thinks that Mankind has barely made a dent in the petroleum supply on this planet?

Dr. ZhivBlago on March 19, 2009 at 10:51 PM

The reason I’m not a Republican: They are Democrats-Lite. Who wants the lite version when, for the same price, you can have a fully operating model?

MaiDee on March 19, 2009 at 10:53 PM

One of the major problems in this country is that people are not intimately aware of all the taxes they are paying. A mileage tax is probably a good thing. You have PRIVATE toll roads. If the road is well maintained and usable you earn more tolls. Otherwise people move to other roads that are better maintained. Road tolls are nominally the same as gasoline taxes. However, if the road tolls support a private company that is charged with keeping the road rolling we get better roads and better driving than with the current government controlled highway systems. (And maybe Corridor H would go away, too.)

{^_^}

{^_^}

herself on March 20, 2009 at 6:24 PM

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