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Oregon Governor Proposes Vehicle Mileage Tax 713

Posted by timothy
from the if-you-have-nothing-to-hide dept.
tiedyejeremy writes "As covered by the Crosscut Blog, the Governor of Oregon, Ted Kulongoski, is proposing a change in the funding of the Oregonian transportation system that drops gasoline taxes and, by way of GPS tracking, taxes the number of miles driven, to the tune of 1.2 cents per mile. The reason for the proposed change is that lower fuel consumption via fuel efficiency will leave the system underfunded. The concerns involve government tracking of the movements of vehicles within the state, though this has been denied by ODOT official, James Whitty. I'm wondering how this affects people using the Interstate System and private roads, and if the outputs can or will be used by law enforcement to check alibis."
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Oregon Governor Proposes Vehicle Mileage Tax

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  • by R2.0 (532027) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:39PM (#26271319)

    Except for the part where they leave the gas tax in place.

  • Uh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Cr4wford (1030418) <(kvcrawford) (at) (gmail.com)> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:40PM (#26271331) Homepage
    I thought encouraging fuel efficiency is a good thing?
  • by Shakrai (717556) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:41PM (#26271347) Journal

    Why just use the fancy new technology called an odometer [wikipedia.org]? Check it every time you renew your registration and collect the fees at that time.

  • by Mark Programmer (228585) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:42PM (#26271369) Homepage

    It seems to me that if you tax a staple good, and people will be consuming less of that staple good due to an increase in efficiency... meaning you'll bring in less money from those taxes...

    Then you raise the tax. What's the downside? It's not like people are going to consume less gas if the tax goes up.

    Arguably, cranking the tax could also lead to people holding onto junker cars for sentimental reasons replacing them or repairing their engines. So really, it's win-win.

  • by Shambly (1075137) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:43PM (#26271375)
    Wouldn't increasing the gas tax thereby further increasing the value of low gas mileage vehicle be preferable? I mean doesn't this just help the pocket book of SUV driving suburbanites vs hybrid driving people?
  • by tripdizzle (1386273) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:44PM (#26271385)
    Because you can turn those back, at least on older cars, on the newer ones that might get reported to the black box, but I know people who can disconnect those too. Looks like its an arms race between motorists and state gov'ts.
  • by tilandal (1004811) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:44PM (#26271393)

    Or they could just... increase the gas tax. I know. Its a maverick idea.

  • by uncreativeslashnick (1130315) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:45PM (#26271397)
    Here's a crazy idea. Instead of raising taxes in a tough economy, how about you do what everyone else is doing and tighten belt and reduce spending? Nah, you're right, that will never work...
  • Priorities (Score:5, Insightful)

    by raftpeople (844215) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:45PM (#26271403)
    How about letting us pump our own gas first, then work on this high-tech stuff.
  • by nweaver (113078) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:45PM (#26271409) Homepage

    The problem is, fuel efficient cars weigh less, and therefore do less damage to the road.

    Thus a gasoline tax is actually better at putting many of the costs on the actual source: heavier, less efficient vehicles. As a bonus, fuel taxes encourage smaller, lighter, more efficient cars which are better for society in the long run.

  • by Flying Scotsman (1255778) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:46PM (#26271415)

    Why just use the fancy new technology called an odometer? Check it every time you renew your registration and collect the fees at that time.

    Odometers don't track in-state mileage versus out-of-state mileage. The article isn't clear on if that matters to the plan here (it might only tax in-state driving, for example), but there's this little snippet about the test run:

    A GPS-based system kept track of the in-state mileage driven by the volunteers. When they bought fuel, a device in their vehicles was read, and they paid 1.2 cents a mile and got a refund of the state gas tax of 24 cents a gallon.

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:47PM (#26271451)

    Why just use the fancy new technology called an odometer?

    Because by car you can easily drive to other states?

    Why should Oregon collect the money for time spent on non Oregon roads?

    Use of a GPS ensures they get tax money for time spent on Oregon roads. Not that it's in any way a good idea, as it does not account for drivers from other states making sue of Oregon roads... That's the advantage of a gas tax, it more or less captures money for the state from most people making use of state roads.

  • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:49PM (#26271475)
    FTFS:

    I'm wondering how this affects people using the Interstate System and private roads, and if the outputs can or will be used by law enforcement to check alibis.

    Let me get this straight. In a move straight from Orwell, they want to track every vehicle in the state for the purposes of getting more taxes out of people, and you're concerned about whether it can be used for alibis and whether there's a hole in the technical details?

    I've got a few problems with this. My first reaction to the statement about more efficient cars is that they shouldn't be punishing people for buying those cars. More efficient cars are also the ones which do the least damage to the environment and the surfaces they drive on since they tend to weigh much less than the alternatives. Punishing those people for being efficient doesn't make sense. A better measure would be to raise the taxes on gasoline. One year ago the price was over double what it is now. Even adding $.50 or $1 to the tax wouldn't bring the prices to what they were.

    My next objection would be the costs of the system. The infrastructure would cost a lot of money, it would raise the cost of cars sold in Oregon and also cost the state money in terms of fighting the inevitable legal battles which may render the system entirely worthless. It seems like a gross misuse of funds.

    Finally, the philosophical objections. Inevitably, many people will have access to this information, and the abuses are many. They range from the government using it to track people to as simple as a stalker knowing where his victim is at all times. At the very least it would raise concerns with police abuses.

    Overall, there is no way that this proposal is a good idea.

  • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:49PM (#26271483) Homepage Journal

    The amount of damage done to a road by a passing vehicle is a geometric? exponential? function of the weight of the vehicle. For instance, say a road will fail if a 100,000 pound vehicle drives over it. In that case, a 120,000 pound truck would do much more damage than two 60,000 trucks. At the low end, you reach a point where no damage is done at all. It's not possible to ruin a modern highway with bicycles, for example.

    So you're justified in taxing vehicles proportionally to their weight, since more weight means more damage, which means more expensive repairs. Conveniently enough, gas mileage is a useful proxy for vehicle weight: the heavier they are, the more gas tax they pay per mile.

    I have no love for Priuses, but it's insane to tax them the same as someone in a semi truck. There are two possible explanations that don't involve Gov. Kulongoski being a stark moron:

    • This is a concession to the trucking industry or people who have to pay them, such as lumber companies who want to reduce transportation costs, or
    • Big Brother can't wait to get here.

    Any Oregonians have insight on the matter?

  • by Myopic (18616) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:50PM (#26271501)

    Yes. This solution is so glaringly obvious that there must be some sinister reason they are ignoring it. I mean, seriously? You're going to go with a fancypants expensive satellite-based high-tech solution requiring lots of new legislation, training, infrastructure, and other costs, not to mention the overwhelming privacy violation -- instead of just raising the tax a little bit? What, seriously? I call shenanigans.

  • by Notquitecajun (1073646) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:53PM (#26271551)
    If something like this were implemented, trucking companies who happen to be based in Oregon would suddenly find themselves elsewhere, with their trucks registered as being owned in other states. The state would lose a chunk of commercial revenue off of this, AND have to deal with higher prices to ship stuff into the state.
  • by TeraBill (746791) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:54PM (#26271573)
    I agree. And it disables the incentive that the gas tax gives and it treats all mileage the same. In other words, if I'm driving a big heavy vehicle that wears the roads more than a smaller lighter vehicle, I pay the same. A tractor-trailer rig pays the same per mile as a Prius? I do understand it from the perspective of alternative fuel vehicles that are/will not pay the gas tax. We need to find alternative funding, but I don't like this solution.
  • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:54PM (#26271577) Homepage Journal

    Why just use the fancy new technology called an odometer?

    I'm a hypothetical Oregon resident with a big farm. I put 5,000 miles on a truck driving around on the farm, hauling hay, etc. Never once have I been on public property, but ever mile has been inside the state borders. How much do I pay?

  • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:55PM (#26271593)

    Or they could just... increase the gas tax. I know. Its a maverick idea.

    With the added benefit of taxing gas-hogs proportionally higher - works for me.

  • by MBGMorden (803437) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:56PM (#26271615)

    Oh, and also it's only on NEW cars- old cars are grandfathered into the gas tax.

    I wonder then if there would be any penalty to hacking the device (for the technophiles) or just ripping the GPS out (for the less technically inclined) of a newer vehicle to avoid the privacy issues. I don't want to be tracked, and it seems like the more fuel efficient cars would fare better by the gas tax method anyways.

    Besides: why are we pushing legislation that puts gas guzzlers and fuel efficent hybrids back onto even footing when it comes to taxes? Shouldn't tax rates ENCOURAGE fuel efficient vehicles? If underfunding is the problem just raise the gas tax to make up for it.

  • by Mark Programmer (228585) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:57PM (#26271627) Homepage

    That is a very good point. My original question disregarded non-essential travel, imagining fuel as a fixed-consumption good. This is what I meant when I referred to it as a 'staple;' I'm unfortunately failing to recall the term for a good with an inflexible rate of consumption.

    However, even though fuel is not fixed-consumption, it seems that this policy would also depress travel; taxing the mileage should discourage people from traveling in a similar way to taxing the fuel.

      A better question would be "Wouldn't taxing miles instead of fuel also bend the market and depress travel? If it would, why not just keep taxing fuel, since we already have a system in place to do so?"

  • by bzipitidoo (647217) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:58PM (#26271643) Journal

    Sounds like the opposite of taxation without representation. I don't live in Oregon, but with this proposal I can drive through the place and pay less tax than the locals. Woohoo!

    Oregon is weird. They've outlawed self service at gas stations. Since I don't care to pay to have some high school klutz spill gas on the ground when filling up my tank, I make sure to gas up across the border whenever I do go that way.

    Just watch out for the sales tax on the motel room. The whole nation has got on the bandwagon of screwing the traveler with extra taxes on motels, rental cars, and all the stuff only visitors need. Now that's taxation without representation.

  • Exactly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Craig Davison (37723) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @03:58PM (#26271655)

    Exactly. It's essentially a subsidy for inefficient vehicles.

  • by thesupraman (179040) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:00PM (#26271669)

    Why not? if you buy your fuel in state A and drive around in state B isnt that exactly what happens now?

    This is of course pointless, GPS is VERY easy to jam, and moderately easy to supply fake data to.

    It would also cost a LOT of build a suitable 'protected' and robust system and install it into all the cars, of course guess who would end up carrying that additional 'tax'

    Just put up the damn fuel tax already, if more money is really required, or more sensibly fire some idiots.

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:02PM (#26271709)
    Sure. I knew you could.

    This would replace a very fair and workable system (gasoline taxes), with an intrusive, costly, potentially abusive system that probably would not work well anyway.

    Did all the politicians in this country take a bunch of stupid pills or something?
  • Re:1984 calls (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nehumanuscrede (624750) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:04PM (#26271751)

    Bad news man.

    The idea is being kicked around for car registration
    stickers to contain an RFID chip.

    Imagine a world where your car can be tracked
    anywhere, anytime on any road. By placing sensors
    at pre-determined intervals, they can calculate
    your speed and auto-mail a ticket if you exceed it
    at any time.

    A police cruiser outfitted with RFID readers can
    scan cars at a scary rate simply by driving by
    them. Bounce that tag number against a database
    and it will alert the officer of any violations
    the car has ( or it's owners ) in damn near real
    time.

    Of course a hand held stun-gun of a few hundred
    thousand volts will do wonders to that RFID chip,
    but don't be surprised to see it coming to a
    car near you :D

  • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:04PM (#26271755)

    A GPS-based system kept track of the in-state mileage driven by the volunteers. When they bought fuel, a device in their vehicles was read, and they paid 1.2 cents a mile and got a refund of the state gas tax of 24 cents a gallon.

    So, this only benefits people who get less than 20mpg - since my car [mangocats.com] gets about 24mpg on average, I think I'd rather save the money _and_ keep my privacy intact.

  • by edittard (805475) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:12PM (#26271911)
    That plus it requires considerably more kit and labor to administer. Whether you agree with fuel tax or not, it has the advantage that it sort of collects itself.
  • by Obfuscant (592200) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:17PM (#26271981)
    As others have stated - so they can charge you different taxes based on where you are/went. In the case of the USA, that might be state-wise. In the case of NL (where they intend to launch this starting 2012), it's so they can charge you more if you drive during rush hour, more if you take the busy roads, more if you're down town (when you could have parked at the edge and taken a shuttle bus instead), etc.

    I know someone at the Uni who was involved in the initial testing for this system. What you say is the main reason why GPS instead of odometer. If you drive in downtown Portland during peak hours, you will pay through the nose. If you drive all your miles in Valley Junction, you will pay a lot less. Also, off-road use is supposed to be tax-free, and currently you have to file for a rebate of those taxes to get your money back at the end of the year.

    My friend could simply not understand that paying rates based on time/location means logging driving times and locations as well as miles, and that this data could easily be used to track people and be used against them for all sorts of things. Insurance companies would love this, as well as cops and all sorts of other investigators. "Well, well, Mrs. Lincoln, we see the GPS in your car shows you meeting with a Mr. Booth ..."

    ODOT, of course, is denying that any logging will take place. Flat out. Won't happen. They know what chance this has of working of they admit the obvious, and too many people don't understand technology well enough to know what has to happen for the magic to take place. Even my friend, an otherwise very smart engineer and all around nice woman, doesn't get it. Why would Joe Smith?

  • by Archangel Michael (180766) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:20PM (#26272049) Journal

    Because I love my children more than the "poor, uninsured, orphan, elementary school children" and don't want to burden THEM with leveraged debt. Oh, and I get the side benefit of, gasp, not leveraging those others with the same debt!

    Wow, how novel is THAT???

  • by Talderas (1212466) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:25PM (#26272135)

    Well, there's two problems with the gas tax.

    1. As a road usage tax it doesn't take into consideration gas for equipment like lawn mowers and chainsaws.
    2. It doesn't take into consideration driving done on private roads or roads not maintained by the government.

    #2 is pretty big in Oregon due to the amount of logging they do. There's a lot of people who spend most of their time driving on logging trails. #2 is also the reason why GPS tracking of miles driven is dumb. It could very well count miles driven on private roads.

  • by Pyrion (525584) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:27PM (#26272173) Homepage

    They likely want something in the guise of "repealing the gas tax" to make themselves look great to the math-challenged masses.

  • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:28PM (#26272187)

    Some South American countries use the tire tax, so everyone drives around on "superlast, hard as rocks" tires to beat the tax rate - can't be good for safety.

    I think that taxing each gallon of fuel is the right way to go, if 0.24 isn't enough, make it 0.48 - we just demonstrated that the world doesn't end when gas passes $3 a gallon.

    Taxing fuel:

    • Collects the tax in small, easy to handle increments
    • Rewards fuel efficient vehicles (which tend to be light and easy on the pavement)
    • Still taxes based on roadway usage
    • Doesn't require any potential invasions of privacy
    • Isn't open to potential tampering (beyond bootleg fuel)

    I think the governor is just talking to get himself heard, drivers of big gas hog vehicles (likely the majority of his constituency) will love the idea, but lawmakers would have to have several screws loose to think this is a good or practical idea.

  • Two huge problems (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SuperKendall (25149) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:29PM (#26272189)

    Easy fix. Oregon residents connect their "device" which refunds the "gas tax" and charges them the "road tax"

    1) How does Oregon know how much you have spent of gas? You are proposing Oregon collects the ID for every gas purchase?

    2) I'm in Oregon, and simply wrap the GPS receiver in aluminum foil until it's time to take it in. I get a full refund on my gas tax and pay for a few tens of miles of roads travelled when in reality I've travelled many thousands. It only has to read enough to get to the border and back and then what could they say about it?

    Not to mention that devices simply fail as well, do you get nothing if your device fails?

    3) What happens when the milage tax exceeds the cost of the gas tax. Why would I not simply choose to destroy the device (probably electrical overload being the favored method).

    State mounted and maintained GPS devices in every car are stupid for so many reasons, those are just a few.

  • Re:Uh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrchaotica (681592) * on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:32PM (#26272217)

    And it's blatantly obvious that tracking people is really the reason they want it too. If they just wanted to tax people per distance traveled they could simply check the odometer once a year -- they don't need GPS tracking for that!

  • by Pyrion (525584) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:33PM (#26272221) Homepage

    24 cents a gallon vs 1.2 cents a mile.

    For the best mileage of my car (~400 miles on 13 gallons) that's $4.80 vs $3.12 (at 24 cents a gallon). A 52.5% increase in the gas tax, essentially.

    See, they could just increase the gas tax by 50% or thereabouts but they'd look like the bad guys. This way they get away with "abolishing the gas tax" which looks great on TV but not so great on a calculator.

  • by aaronl (43811) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:41PM (#26272339) Homepage

    Do you know how much GPS simulators cost?

    The better question is "How much will they cost if this nightmare were to become law?"

  • by starglider29a (719559) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:50PM (#26272445)
    "If you drive a car, I'll tax the street."
    --
    Taxman
    The Beatles
    Revolver

    Seriously, people. Have we failed somewhere in transmitting the message that the Beatles song is *satire* and Orwell's DYS-topia is a *warning*!? It's not a cook book for Governments to follow to do that voodoo that they do!

    Oh, that's a great idea. So THAT's how we can do that and get away with it! Now, how do we tax their feet?

  • by thrillseeker (518224) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:57PM (#26272563)
    Yes, all targeted tax collection is simply forced "wealth transfer" hidden behind yet another name.
  • by drsquare (530038) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @04:59PM (#26272589)

    1. As a road usage tax it doesn't take into consideration gas for equipment like lawn mowers and chainsaws.

    I'm pretty sure they have electric lawn mowers and chainsaws all the way over here in the 21st century. I'm not sure why they'd give an exception to such things, they're just as polluting as other uses for oil.

    2. It doesn't take into consideration driving done on private roads or roads not maintained by the government.

    You have your own private atmosphere?

  • by Ohio Calvinist (895750) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @05:04PM (#26272681)
    I don't understand why they need to use GPS? Oregon is Self-serve only. Just have the attendant get the odometer reading and enter it into a wireless handset with the license plate and let the DMV store the data with their last odometer reading, and you'd only need 1 row in the database, which has to be a lot cheaper and a lot less invasive, cheaper to implement and would have a real "reason" for OR to be self-serve only than what this guy is thinking.

    All that being said, I still think it is a stupid idea.
  • by k8to (9046) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @05:06PM (#26272713) Homepage

    Taxing travel depresses travel. Taxing fuel depresses inefficient travel more than efficient travel.

    Now which seems to make more sense?

  • by pete-classic (75983) <hutnick@gmail.com> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @05:16PM (#26272851) Homepage Journal

    Wouldn't increasing the gas tax thereby further increasing the value of low gas mileage vehicle be preferable?

    This is why you aren't a Governor.

    Anyone with a brain in his head (and without malice in his heart) would propose just that. Make up for the shortfall, provide a further incentive for people to operate fuel efficient vehicles, and not create a huge new bureaucracy to track citizen's movements.

    *sigh*

    -Peter

    PS: I just posted another comment. While I wait for the posting time limit to elapse I'd like to point out that this guy is a Democrat. A Democrat who wants to track your car. Next time you're voting, consider voting for someone who isn't a member of one of the two parties who have been bringing us so many bad ideas for the last . . . however long. Thanks.

  • by Grishnakh (216268) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @05:51PM (#26273201)

    this already works out where many people that work in oregon live in washington (vancouver), buy their gas in washington, drive on mostly oregon roads, do not pay oregon income taxes, do not pay oregon property tax, and since oregon has no sales tax, do not pay washington sales tax since they shop in oregon. it's a big win for them, and a loss to both states in revenue. this would only cause more people to fill up in washington (1 mile from my portland house).

    I don't see the problem here. If Oregon wants more revenue, they're free to institute a sales tax, and Washington is free to raise their gas tax. Of course, then Oregon stores would suffer a big loss in business (while WA stores would gain business), and WA gas stations would suffer a big loss in business (while OR gas stations would get more). But I guess they'd rather sit around and complain about "lost revenue".

  • by moracity (925736) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @06:25PM (#26273569)

    When you do buy gas? When you have driven.

    How much gas do you buy? Depends on how far you drove.

    When do you pay gas tax? When you buy gas.

    Cars cannot drive without consuming fuel. Unless you are buying your own crude oil and refining your own fuel, you already pay tax based on how much you drive.

    This idea has nothing to do with taxes. It's about control and invasion of privacy.

  • by alvinrod (889928) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @06:26PM (#26273575)

    "Very, very few people if any are able to completely avoid the public system. Groceries, utilities, emergency services, those things all require a maintained public street system for nearly all the work. So even those that theoretically don't drive on public roads are still benefiting from the ability to do so."

    Any goods delivered on a public road system are delivered by vehicles driving on that road which require fuel to run which is in turn taxed. I suppose people like me freeload a bit when we walk a few blocks to the grocery store on the nice sidewalks and roads instead of driving a car which pay for road upkeep through fuel consumption, but I still have to drive to work and other places so they invariably get me in the end. Of course there might be a few people who use the public roadways without driving a car at all. My personal belief is that these people should get a free pass as they're choosing a means of conveyance that will keep them healthier without adding to the amount of pollution in a given area. I think that the small amount of money lost from these people is made up in other areas.

    Gas tax works remarkably well for the most part and is probably one of most fair taxes that I could think of off of the top of my head. The only problem is that as we shift towards electric cars and hybrids we're still using the roads but not using the fuel. At that point it probably just makes more sense to have the state apply some other form of tax. A flat tax per vehicle per year works out well enough, but it does tend to punish those who don't use their vehicle as often. If they really wanted, they could just set up toll booths and collect funds that way as well.

    The proposed solution seems nice, but I feel as though it's overly complex and would require significant cost to implement at this point; never mind the potential for abuse.

  • by conspirator57 (1123519) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @06:28PM (#26273595)

    You are very focused on the environmental impact side of the set of repercussions of automobiles and other power equipment. The main focus of the debate seems to be on the road maintenance costs. You are muddying the waters by responding only considering the topic that concerns you rather than the one the GP is concerned with. Here's a way to address both:

    Premises:
    1. We need infrastructure and transit to support our current population densities (and the variety of land uses that sustain them)

    2. We want to pay for the construction and maintenance of needed public infrastructure in a way that is fair. e.g. users who drive roads maintained with tax dollars pay for their portion of that use, but not for their use of private roads whose maintenance costs they are likely already paying.

    3. We (well, some of us anyways) want to discourage consumption of fuel by penalizing all usage of it, perhaps even disproportionately and we want to do this for all uses of the fuel because we fear the environmental impacts of over-consumption

    Analysis:

    Part of the tax needs to be proportional to the person's use of the infrastructure. Prii still wear the road and occasionally their drivers don't fess up to destroying signage or guide rails... SUVs wear the road more, but i'd think rather less than you'd like to penalize them for polluting. However, neither type of vehicle costs the state highway commission anything for miles driven on private roads. This last bit is the GP's beef that you don't care to acknowledge, no matter how legitimate it is with respect to highway maintenance costs. A smart GPS system could really shine here.

    Part of the tax (in the opinion of many) needs to encourage efficiency to reduce pollution. Thus it is punative against consumption. Gas taxes shine here.

    Results:

    Taxation that achieves both goals will synthesize both approaches and avoid corner cases where families scratching a living from the earth in BFE have to pay twice for road maintenance they aren't getting, while people tearing up the state roads and creating traffic jams on the Interstates in their Prii don't get off free for the congestion and resulting infrastructure building they contribute to.

    Taxation should explicitly acknowledge the balance of maintenance and penalization we as a society feel is appropriate. You will likely think that balance is not punative enough. Others will think it too punative. Compromise is inherent in politics. Get out there and convince others there is benefit to higher sin taxes. Use NY's cigarette tax as an example.

    Other than fairness and open government, another reason that explicitly apportioning the tax between the two objectives is necessary is that it is terribly demoralizing to be told that one is paying for infrastructure that one is hardly using at all. It feels like theft. And it is.

    Unrelated:

    As to your attempt at a point regarding electrical power equipment, you clearly have never used a chainsaw. There are electric chainsaws. They suck. Electric lawn mowers suck too. Perhaps you could make a contribution to the environment by designing electric power equipment that works as well as internal combustion driven equipment and do not weigh twice as much.

  • As an Oregon resident, I'll state my preference for a higher gas tax for just these reasons.

    A gas tax simply aligns with the public externalities of motor vehicles a lot better than just milage, since bigger cars cause more wear. There's no incentive for buying less damaging vehicles this way. Also, gas taxes are easy to collect, while this is more complex. Net revenue will be reduced by the cost of monitoring, plus there's the initial capital cost of getting the whole thing set up.

    And while all taxes cause some distortion in the market, it's best to pick ones where the distortion is the least painful or disruptive, or otherwise aligned with society goals. Reducing petroleum imports and carbon emissions are both clear public goals. If consumption is going down, the tax is doing what it should, and so the best thing to do is to raise it to maintain the incentive to get smaller, more efficient vehicles that we saw last summer.

    Since governments at all levels need funding, higher gas taxes seem like one of the best options. And a high tax sets a minimum on gas prices, and so a floor for how inefficient a vehicle people are willing to take. A $0.50 gallon tax, split evenly between states and the fed, would pay for a whole lot of economic recovery, give a stable floor to the value of alternative energy, and still be way cheaper than it was a few months ago. Right now, we're seeing state governments cutting services and payroll at the very time we need an expansionist policy nationwide to avoid deflation. The net effect is the federal government will need to borrow and spent even more money to balance out the state cuts before we can even start climbing out of the hole (if state payrolls drop by 500K, that means the fed employment target from the stimulus plan needs to be 3.5M, not 3.0M, to have the same effect).

    I'd much rather see our governor recommend raising the gas tax by $0.25, drop this milage/GPS nonsense, and restore funding to education, get the new I-5 bridge started, etcetera.

  • by digitalunity (19107) <[digitalunity] [at] [yahoo.com]> on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @06:45PM (#26273755) Homepage

    Leave it to Oregon...

    They are interesting indeed. They have no sales tax but do have an income tax. Voters have rejected a sales tax like 12 bazillion times.

    The state is broke and needs more money desperately. Watching legislators looking for new ways to increase tax revenue isn't new for Oregonians - it's normal.

  • by dave562 (969951) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @07:19PM (#26274017) Journal

    If the real problem involves electric vehicles, then they could... wait for it... increase taxes on electricity!! There you go. Problem solved. No need for intrusive GPS tracking. If the problem involves the batteries in hybrid cars, then they can pay some mathmeticians to calculate the cost savings of the batteries, and then tax the production or sale of the cars to offset the revenue lost. Once again, no tracking necessary.

    Of course the REAL issue isn't completely related to the loss of revenues from the fuel tax. The real issue is that the government feels like they own us. They believe that they can go crazy with tracking us like merchandise. That is my big, fat, off-topic gripe for this thread. Our government has devolved from our fellow citizens serving their communities, to our fellow citizens trying to dictate our lives to us.

  • by Original Replica (908688) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @07:45PM (#26274265) Journal
    The justification for the gas tax is that your tax is proportional to your usage of the infrastructure. The point of the gas tax is to raise funds for the State government. Private roads only disrupt the justification of the gas tax, not it's function.

    However the creation of an extensive toll system to tax mileage will undoubtedly make for a nice fat contract to be awarded to a private contractor somewhere in Oregon, and there can be the additional claim of "jobs created". Simply raising the existing gas tax would be far too efficient.
  • by cayenne8 (626475) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @08:18PM (#26274561) Homepage Journal
    But, taxes should NOT be used to manipulate behavior....that's a bastardization of what a tax is for.

    It should only be collected at the minimum level for govt. to provide infrastructure and defense (mostly fed) and the like. I think a lot of the tax for behavior is what keeps us collecting and paying too many taxes today. It isn't supposed to be a means of behavior modification....that is just as bad as the Feds. using tax revenues as blackmail to make the states do certain things. It certainly isn't any better levelling them at individuals for behavior.

    And look..this is an example of it backfiring. Ok..so, the current gas taxes and pricing...cut people intake of gas...but, now, the govt. is so hooked on tax money..they have to move to figure a new way to keep the revenue coming in. In this case...the behavior was changed...but, the tax didn't disappear. This cycle happens over and over.

    I don't mind everyone paying a tax to keep the roads up and going...that is what it is for...how much you use it, does seem fari.

    However, I really don't want them to start mandating GPS's on cars like this proposal...too easy for the govt.to track yet another datum of the people.

    I'm for a fair tax to pay for infrastructure, but, not something that allows more govt. snooping...and I won't want them to tax to change behaviors...

  • Sounds like a plan (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dheltzel (558802) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @08:30PM (#26274681)

    1. Give 20 million to your political cronies for "R & D" on the new tax.
    2. Generate publicity that creates a huge public furor over privacy issues.
    3. Wait until even your fiscally conservative opponents are railing that you should just increase the fuel tax.
    4. Make a big deal about "listening to the people", then cancel the unworkable plan, raise taxes and make everyone happy.
    5. Profit!

  • by ibbey (27873) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @09:01PM (#26275005) Homepage

    I have to say that those are about the poorest justifications against the tax I can imagine... First, #1 is just silly. Even if you are a professional landscaper or gardener, it's unlikely that you are using enough gas in your lawnmowers and chainsaws to really be a significant concern. And since the cost of the fuel you use should be a deductible expense, the net tax you pay is negligible. If you are not a professional, you probably use less than 10 or 20 gallons of gasoline (for most people MUCH less) per year for these purposes, so most people probably spend more driving to the gas station to fill up their gas can than they waste on unnecessary gas taxes each year. #2 makes a bit more sense, but still falls flat. As others have pointed out, off-road fuels are already not taxed the same. If you spend enough time driving off road to find this tax a major concern, you probably already no how to avoid paying it.

    You are right that some people pay a little bit of extra tax with the current system, but I would be surprised if the amount of gasoline sold and taxed for on-road use that was not used on the road even came to 1% of the total. Out of all the unfair taxes in the world, this one doesn't really seem all that bad to me.

  • by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @09:28PM (#26275339)

    #1 is idiotic. When I grew up I always mowed the lawn with a riding lawn mower. It took about 2 gallons per mow for a several acre property. I go through more gas than that every couple of days in my car and I don't drive that much. The amount of Gas that goes into a container vs a vehicle is probably 1/100th the fuel sales. Hardly worth investing in expensive taxation infrastructure for the mass majority of the customers.

    #2 is also stupid because those customers aren't spending money on gas taxes as it is. Diesel for farm equipment and logging on private property is tax-exempt. It's often colored differently and if a cop catches you driving it on public road systems you get a ticket.

    And as you mentioned #2 also isn't fixed by GPS.

  • by Behrooz (302401) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @10:52PM (#26276131)

    No, the point is to provide revenue for the government, and depending on your ideological leanings, either use the market system to encourage conservation or unreasonably distort price levels and mess up the market with all of your unwarranted government intervention.

    As far as taxation goes, being even roughly proportional is about as good as it gets, and the gas tax is pretty close to proportionate to road usage and wear and tear, within some fudge factors. It's as close or closer to proportional than any of the alternatives, and has the added benefit of being much simpler to administer than anything else that's even close.

    There is no perfect solution, and holding out for one is an open invitation to screw things up. So, unless you're planning to set up a labyrinthine bureaucratic/technical hell of graduated usage fees for any given stretch of road... stop worrying about the poor, sad lawnmower/offroad gas consumers who constitute an insignificant fraction of the whole. Even if they're not causing wear and tear on public roads, lawnmowers tend to have nasty emissions and offroad travel tends to cause other problems.

  • Re:It's not jobs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by barzok (26681) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @11:16PM (#26276287)

    I don't like pumping my own gas, the novelty of the idea wears off real fast in the rain.

    None of your gas pumps have canopies over them?

    I don't recall the last time I saw an operating gas station without a canopy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 30, 2008 @11:43PM (#26276465)

    Tanks get really crappy gas mileage. By the time you drive it home, half the fuel will already be gone.

    And they also tear up the road pretty badly. If anything, someone driving a tank should be taxed 5x as much.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @12:43AM (#26276913)

    Odd, by percentage of GDP [wikipedia.org], Norway has the 4th highest taxes in the world, at 44%. I'm curious which of your fellow citizens is picking up your end of the average.

  • by mokumegane (926087) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @10:48AM (#26280459)

    Grandma. Your Grandma - Making consumers pump gas would mean that your grandma is going to have to get out of the car into the snow on her walker to pump her gas, because most gas stations won't have Full Service, and the ones that do will charge far more than for self serve and your grandma won't be able to afford it. Yes, the newspapers really do get letters like that any time they propose changing the law. New Jersey's full-serve gas is almost always cheaper than self-serve across the border in PA or NY; I suspect Oregon's isnt'. (Here in California, gas stations have to pump gas for handicapped people for no extra charge, but our gas taxes are about 50 cents higher than most of the country's, so grandma's still getting ripped off.)

    Actually, this isn't an issue at all. In WA state, they don't do the required pumping service. Several gas stations have the self or service pump option. You could seriously throw a rock and hit one. The price for pumping service (if you're not elderly or disabled) still makes gas cheaper in WA than OR (and OR has the enforced pumping service). Elderly and disabled can get free pumping service in WA... Not only does a handicap permit allow this to happen but also a drivers' license showing you are at such an age or older works just as well. Granted, I don't know if any of this has changed...

  • by XtremeMachineX (1442405) on Thursday January 01, 2009 @09:08PM (#26295791)
    why don't we let the free market work and demand more fuel efficient vehicles instead of using compulsion and coercion through laws and regulations set by the government. if you look what happened when the price of gas went up the car companies started building smaller more fuel efficient cars.

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell

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