North Carolina Residents: Beware Another Tax Idea

A couple of days ago Michelle Malkin wrote about a proposed law here in North Carolina that would assess fees on motorists based on how far they drive in a year. She included some very sound objections to the idea in her post, Nanny State alert: Meet the mileage police. My only quibble with her is over her characterization of it as a “nanny state” action, because its aim is not to protect us from ourselves or anything else; instead, it’s more a “greedy state” action, because it seems to be aimed solely at increasing revenue.

Why do they need to increase vehicle tax revenue? Because in the wake of high fuel prices, people started driving less … meaning less consumption … meaning less tax revenue. They want to make up shortfalls in the state government’s income.

On the surface, it seems fine that people who drive more should pay more — after all, people who use more electricity pay more. But while we may think of roads as public utilities, “consuming” your share of the road does not require someone to lay out the new roadway ahead of you or produce more roadway behind you because you’ve used it — unlike electricity that has to be generated and then is used up, or water that has to be treated before and after use. Once the road is built, it continues to exist for a long time, and the wear and tear of one vehicle at a time seems too miniscule to meter.

Speaking of the possibility of “metering” our vehicles, how much more state bureaucracy would be needed to collect this tax? The data collection, tax assessment, payment processing, accounting, disbursement, and tax fraud investigation would probably cost far more than this tax would ever produce. (I say that based not on knowledge of the numbers of people involved or any other specific facts, but rather on my own assessment of the inherent tendency of government offices to develop extra layers of oversight and other non-value-added functions.)

The same day that Ms. Malkin presented her argument against the tax idea, Raleigh area blogger Tabitha Hale took aim at the proposal in her post on Red County, NC Road-Use Tax A Privacy Violation? She looked at the issue from a different angle, considering the longer-term view in which GPS-capable data recorders would one day download driving patterns that would be used to assess the tax. Her argument against the bill is also a sound one.

The best case scenario would be for this proposal to be pulled from the table entirely; next best would be for it to die in committee; and next would be for it to be voted down. It seems little good can come from it. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped our government in the past from passing laws that have caused more harm than good.

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