Green Car Congress (I'll stop linking to them in stories if they stop posting such great stuff) has posted a provocative thought-piece exploring the idea of an automobile carbon tax. It would replace half of California's existing vehicle license fee; rather than that part of the fee being based on car value, it would be based on the
car's mileage average miles-per-gallon of that car model. Some car owners would see their annual tax drop, some would see it grow, but the overall effect would be to help reduce California's existing fiscal problem while simultaneously nudging people to buy more fuel-efficient cars.
This is a bad idea for two reasons.
(1) Rich people would be able to afford to drive as much as they wanted and poor people would be restricted based on the amount of tax they could afford. This would be increasing the social-economic divides that already exist today, something that we should be trying to eliminate not increase.
(2) The fact that the poor will be restricted based on what they can afford is more or less equivalent to being dictated how much they are allowed to drive. Which would be an infringement of the right to "pursue happiness" inside the US.
Do you see the point here? I'm all for protecting the environment, but it needs to be done in responsible ways, not by force.
Hydrogen is the future, we should not erode our civil liberties out of zeal for protecting the environment (though admirable), when patience is all that is required.
If we were going to consider laws which restricted personal rights, why not consider outlawing the sale of combustion engines in automobiles all together?
Austin, I agree that most carbon taxes risk being seriously regressive: if the poor and the rich drive roughly the same amount, they pay roughly the same amount of carbon tax, and the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This is a general problem with these kinds of taxes.
However, I think that you are confusing the limits of the government's right to tax, and our right to do as we please. Social policy is often implemented through heavy taxation: consider "sin taxes" like those on alcohol and tobacco! Would you be for abolishing those taxes also?
Austin, I think my poor phrasing was confusing. I used "mileage" to mean miles-per-gallon, while you may have understood it to mean "miles traveled". The partial vehicle license fee replacement with a carbon tax would not be based on how much the individual's car was driven, but on the average miles-per-gallon of the car model. I'll fix the text to make it more clear.
Why not just increase fuel tax. Yes it's a flat rate tax and therefore regressive. Here in Europe it's used to encourage people to use public transport.
Here in the UK - tax is about 75% of the price of fuel, whereas in the U.S. it's only 25% which is way too low. Higher fuel taxes encourage people to buy more economical vehicles AND drive less. To travel a few hundred miles in the UK, I'll take a train. If I didn't do it for environmental reasons, I'd do it for economic reasons. Here gasoline costs close to $7 a gallon.
James, you're right - shame on me for not following the link and reading the whole article.
A miles-per-gallon tax seems MUCH more fair than a miles-travelled tax.
Vinay, yes I think that the so called "sin" taxes should be abolished as well - even though they help states cover the health care expenses associated with long-term heavy use of these products.
From here we could get into an argument about whether or not the government should pay for health care for everyone - which is really an argument about whether or not our government should be a Socialist government or not, but let's not.
James, while the notion of increasing gas taxes to encourage public transit is worth thinking about, it's not a simple proposition. It runs into serious system-level problems in the US. We simply don't have the reliable, cheap, and usable public transit systems in most places here that can be found in Europe, and building them is neither fast nor cheap at this point. If you increase gas taxes by enough to make a behavioral difference, you end up with poor(er) people unable to afford driving to work *and* without reasonable alternative transporation (by reasonable, I mean "will get you there on time reliably without too much disruption").
Population density, existing transporation infrastructure (ie, roads vs. train tracks. cities not built with subways in mind, etc.), and popular mythology compound the problem. It's not impossible to solve, of course, but it is still challenging. *That's* why we don't just increase the fuel tax.
(For readers following along at home, I believe that Austin said "James" when he meant "Jamais" -- me -- while the "James" I referred to is the author of Alt.Energy blog, signing here as Alternative Energy News. Consult your program for details.)
Austin, given that around 50% of the economic activity in the USA goes through government hands, in the form of taxes and government spending, I think that's a settled questions. It's just that the citizens of other socialist countries get better services :-)
I do like the idea of making people pay more for inefficient things - soak 'em on the start up cost. I can imagine a system where one buys goods with a lifetime supply of their fuel, be it electricity or gasoline, and their disposal costs. You wind up borrowing a hundred grand to buy a car, and selling it and it's fuel rights as a package. No more hidden costs.
A premise for science fiction, not a realistic idea, but it does illuminate some alternative approaches to pricing.