Thursday, February 26, 2009

Taxes and gases

The bizarreness of life with Obama in the White House was seldom more apparent (so far) than in the mad tea party around the mileage tax idea. Amazing how many of the rank-and-file "conservative" comments (see also previous link) blame Obama and the Dems - or "liberals"(whoever they are) - for this screwball idea, when it was a Republican who proposed it and Obama who "slapped it down".

The best one is, Obama must have okayed this, then when it was unpopular he sacrificed poor Sec. LaHood, his "favorite Republican". Of course it's possible, but a lot of Admin proposals are a lot less popular with people who are much more powerful, it seems. It's also possible that it was a fake or feint (and maybe LaHood is just a foil himself -we'll see) to make Obama's real proposal more acceptable - drum roll, please - like the Republicans' usual tactic of proposing 2-3 times what they really want in tax breaks for the rich and program cuts for the poor. Yikes.

The mere suggestion of a VMT is fubar, of course - along with tolls and gas taxes - and not just because it's an "invasion of privacy". Tolls and other "user fees" are Libertarian nonsense - if you care about the less fortunate. Likewise gas taxes, like all sales taxes, hit lower income folks the hardest. When they're not flying in their corporate jets, the big CEOs and a whole host of smaller business execs are charging their gas to the company anyway - and the company passes that on to "the customer" a.k.a. you and me, or cuts "labor costs" (again, you and me).

Here's where I have to differ with my friends the Greens: taxing poor people trying to get to work, especially in rural areas and in some cities, is just inhumane. In the Buffalo-Niagara Falls metropolitan area, for example, there are over 1 million people but the public transportation sucks, especially if you're, say, an African American trying to get from your home on the East Side to a job (or to look for a job) across town or in one of the many white-flight suburbs. The train has one line, north-south only, and never makes it into any of the suburbs. The east-west buslines all turn at Main Street at the white-black neighborhood boundary and head north or south. Waiting for a bus transfer is bad enough when the snow's 6 feet deep and you're late to work, even if you didn't have to get your kids off to school, too.

And car insurance is higher on the East Side, too (high crime area - yeah, the people in the neighborhood say, we noticed! That's why we want the frak out!). Nah - gas taxes are not true progressive agenda.

So, how do we pay for roads? Hold on - first let's break down the assumptions here. A) One massive chunk of that money is for new highways and roads, or for expanding old ones. Some might be necessary, given our current lack of options, but most of it ... I'm thinking ... not. When we drive down through Tennessee there are 4-6 lane highways I've never seen more than a half dozen cars on at any one time - and I grew up down there. Here in Urbana, Windsor Road, for example, too damn wide. Most of our city streets are too wide, and street parking limited, too - but that's a whipping boy of another stripe. Essentially, there's a multimillion dollar shortfall comparing gasoline taxes to road-building, don't build some roads!

B) Maintaining current roads: back to "our current lack of options". This is where public transportation comes in. We need some economic infrastructure conversion here. Adding up the taxes and ticket prices, Amtrak costs the government more than cars and roads, you say? There's one big fat gas tax you're forgetting: Iraq. You wanna pay for something big? Cut that!

Oh, and here's another one: Afghanistan.

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