June 10, 2011

Seeming Wise, but Raising Taxes

Justin Katz

For years, I've been arguing against transportation bonds on the grounds that such basic matters of infrastructure are the first expenses that our government ought to make. Instead, the political strategy becomes one in which elected officials and unelected bureaucrats spend as much money as they can on non-basic services and then return to taxpayers to fund critical projects like road and bridge repairs, often leveraging debt to delay the pain that such a strategy is sure to cause.

Well, the RI Senate is beginning to tackle the problem, but in a way that attempts to make the strategy more of a permanent fixture:

The Senate Commission on Sustainable Transportation Funding became the latest in a series of study groups to recommend highway tolls along with higher driving-related fees such as licensing and registration. ...

The commission also recommended that the state look into a VMT tax, for vehicle miles traveled. That would mean a fundamental change in the way driving is taxed. Now, motorists usually pay indirectly, through taxes and fees. A VMT tax would raise money by taxing actual miles driven. It remains unclear, however, how that would be done.

Sen. Louis DiPalma (D, Little Compton, Tiverton, Aquidneck Island) places cessation of debt as the first priority, which is good and necessary, but it's as part of an effort to add revenue sources. What the state government should be doing is starting its budget from zero, funding those things that give government the most justification to tax money out of the economy and then arguing for any additional expenditures and even tax/fee increases for everything else on the merits.

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It's frustrating from a logical standpoint that the first statist objection to libertarianism is always lampooning a society without roads and bridges. How many libertarians do you hear going around complaining about roads and bridges? Start with the least legitimate services and cut backwards, e.g., legislative grants, disability pensions, marijuana enforcement. Nobody honestly expects to get anywhere near the point of debating the public funding of roads and bridges.

I would be thrilled if we could cut spending by 5-10%. That makes me an "extremist" according to progressives. Quadrupling stimulus spending per the recommendation of Paul Krugman, on the other hand, is a totally reasonable and workable suggestion.

Posted by: Dan at June 10, 2011 9:05 AM

Right now, we pay 33 cents a gallon state tax on gasoline. Where exactly does every penny of that go?

I am not in favor of any additional fees or taxes to pay for roads/bridges until every penny of the gas tax is given to the DOT.

Why should we think that the tolls would all go to roads? Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us. Fool us a third, fourth, fifth time? Well, then just go ahead, keep on fooling us, I guess.

Posted by: Patrick at June 10, 2011 9:29 AM

We're already paying a VMT. It's called the gasoline tax and how's that working out for us. What we need is a truth in spending bill. Put the money where it is intended to go, ie. gasoline, 911. Wasn't the lottery's purpose to fund education?

Posted by: Max Diesel at June 10, 2011 10:52 AM

"Wasn't the lottery's purpose to fund education?"

Isn't the purpose of the $1.00 911 fee on our phone bills to fund the state's emergency call service? Why does only 33% of it go to the service?

Posted by: Patrick at June 10, 2011 11:33 AM

You guys have it all wrong. You can't judge Leftist policies by their effects. You are only allowed to judge them by their publicly stated intentions. You are not allowed to question those publicly stated intentions, even if you have evidence that they are disguises for the real intentions.

Sheesh, I thought you would have learned this by now.

Posted by: BobN at June 10, 2011 12:41 PM

No Interstate highway built with federal funds, such as RI's portion of 95, 295 and 195 can be tolled. An exception is allowed for NEWLY BUILT car pool lanes. So this is dead in the water.
Of course even if they could toll it northbound traffic would divert to 395 and South County locals would use route 1 and the many, many other local roads.
We CAN toll local roads. How about a $50 toll on every street leading to the East Side, where so many anti-working people ideas come from?

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at June 10, 2011 7:24 PM
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