The Myth of Mileage Taxes

This morning Eric Hogue was asking how you would like to be taxed to pay for road improvements in California. He was asking about a per mileage tax versus an increased sales tax. This discussion was due to an upcoming ballot initiative related to this issue.

I reject any proposal for an increase in taxes for this purpose. A mileage tax however well intended would be in addition to any existing taxes and engineered to eliminate privately owned vehicles. It is just another avenue for trying to socially engineer my life and yours and take away our freedom to travel.

Previous attempts to increase spending on roads have resulted in no increase in spending. The new tax revenue simply replaced other revenue that was then diverted for other purposes. Remember the temporary earthquake tax that was made permanent to help with roads? It didn’t make any difference anywhere in the State.

Gasoline taxes diverted for public transportation are a waste of time and are used to subsidize unprofitable modes of transportation. Diverting money for this purpose results in even less money available to maintain and improve existing roads.

If you want to fix the roads then stop the Legislature from putting the money from gas taxes into the general fund. Only a fraction of State and Federal money collected for this purpose is actually used on roads. Most just ends-up in the general fund and is spent on social programs.

If you want to fix the roads put all money collected from gasoline taxes into a separate fund for fixing roads and keep it out of the general fund. If these tens of billions of dollars won’t get the result that you want, then get rid of the Davis-Bacon Act and similar mandates for prevailing wages on highway projects. I know in construction of public schools that prevailing wages increase the cost of construction by 40 percent. Even members of my local school board conceded that point when pressed about the economic cost. I suspect that eliminating prevailing wage requirements on road construction and maintenance would result in similar savings.

The truth is that transportation taxes are a great source of general fund revenue and have nothing to do with road improvement. If the money went to the purposes for which it is collected then we would not even be discussing the quality of our roads. Instead we might be discussing how to rebate the extra revenue collected by the State.