This bit of news comes via the Wall Street Journal: Soak the Green:
Oregon mulls a new tax that environmentalists and privacy advocates will hate.
As gas prices continue to top $2 a gallon, all those drivers of fuel-efficient cars may not have reason to gloat for much longer. Oregon is worried that too many Honda Insights and Toyota Priuses hitting the roads will rob it of the cash it expects out of its 24-cent-a-gallon tax. So the Beaver State is studying ways to ensure that "hybrid" car owners pay their "fair share" of taxes for the miles they drive. That means allowing the taxman to catch up to hybrid owners just as often as he catches up to gas guzzling SUV drivers. And if Oregon goes ahead, it won't be long before other states follow.
Oregon won't complete its study until 2007. But it's already clear the state is looking to influence behavior in addition to raising revenue by implementing a "vehicle mileage tax." Under a VMT a motorist would pay a tax for each mile driven, probably around 1.25 cents. To administer this tax, a global positioning system would be mounted in each car. As a driver fuels up, the device would relay mileage information to the gas pump, which would calculate the VMT. A simple electronic odometer-reading device would do the trick, but Oregon is looking at GPS devices because they would also allow for charging higher VMT rates for miles driven in "congested" areas during rush hour or to exempt miles driven out of state.
It amazes me that a left-leaning place, as Oregon surely is, could seriously contemplate such a system. These are many of the same folks that couldn't abide by the Patriot Act because of its supposed vulnerabilities for governmental abuse. Yet they will now sanction governmental monitoring of your every movement by automobile? Can you forgive me for thinking this position is more than inconsistent? It is positively incoherent. ("Public safety is one thing, but, good God man! we are talking about TAX REVENUES HERE! Civil liberties be damned!")
Here is QandO's take on this proposal:
So imagine: the state will know where you are at all times, charge you for every mile you drive, and charge you a bit more if you have the temerity to drive in "congested" areas, perhaps because you've gone into a "congested" area every day to do something silly like work. And you'll pay for it. Oh, how you'll pay...
And how long do you think it'll be until the police have regular access to real-time information on your location?
Now, perhaps you're an environmentalist, who think people should be taxed for driving around too much, even if they do have a Toyota Prius. OK, but think about this: if the government collects more money through mileage tax revenues, why would they ever build reliable public transportation to reduce fossil fuel use even more? After all, public transportation costs far more than the money it takes in from fares, because it is always subsidized. So, why spend all that money on public transportation when, by having bad public transportation, you can force more people to drive, and capture more revenue for the state? It's called the law of unintended consequences.
Once again I have to ask the question: Do you think the government exists to serve the needs of its citizens? Or do you believe that citizens exist to provide government with tax revenues?