Saturday, August 9, 2008

Discussion Question Time

If we all move to electric vehicles and alternate fuel vehicles, what will we tax (or how will we tax) to keep the roads paved and the transit running?

I'm beginning to see that a lot of people ( the various "Green" bloggers at Daily Kos like dotcommodity and A Seigel) don't seem to have answered that question when they make their case (sometimes guiltmongering, but hey, do what you gotta do to make a point) for putting solar panels on carports for plug-in electric cars so they don't have to buy electricity generated from a big corporate utility and so on.

My coworkers had an argument from Williamsport well past Selinsgrove as we drove down US 11/15 from Towanda last Thursday about this and it sparked something.

Many Americans hate the gas tax, as we seem to hate all taxes. But I'll tell you what, you know exactly what you're getting with the federal and state gas taxes: paved roads. They may not be the best, as any Pennsylvanian or resident of the upper Midwest/Northeast will tell you, but they get paved when they can. Furthermore, myself included, we expect expanded transit systems. Or we expect the light rails (then called trolleys or interurbans) to come back after we ripped them all out after World War II. The money for that has to come from somewhere.

Gasoline has come down, because people stopped driving. Eventually it will continue its slow rise upward. I am firmly of the belief what's occurring now is an artificial bubble and not the End Of Civilization Due To Peak Oil, although the Peak is approaching if it hasn't passed already. At any rate, people stop driving, revenues to keep the roads paved stop coming in. Revenues stop coming in, roads don't get paved so then your fancy (although very fragile, I mean what's available in electric cars now look like Barbie cars or golf carts, no offense) electric car will be worthless unless they start building them like Hummers.

I'd like to have a cool serious discussion about this because it really should be on people's minds. We can all put solar panels on our carports and garages assuming we live in the suburbs where we can have a carport and/or garage, as most Americans do (and we'll discuss where city dwellers would plug in later.) We can all generate our own power so we don't have to buy from some evil corporate utility that probably isn't green and won't be for at least another 2 or 3 decades. But that doesn't answer the question on how the roads get paved if no one used gas to power their vehicles anymore. We're already seeing our revenues begin to fall and at PennDOT, this is seriously hurting our purchasing power.

I'll throw an idea and note I'm not for or against it. A Transportation Systems Sales Tax that everyone pays, no matter if they drive or not. Everyone enjoys the benefits of a functioning transportation system, otherwise you'd starve. Think about it. Or post your own ideas in the comments thread.

It's either that or we toll just about everything.


Christina said...

When you posted to twitter about this, my first thought was to tax the new energy source for the car. But I see your point about how much easier it is to get around that. Plus, adding a tax on electricity would be over doing it. My next thought was sales tax - so we are on the same wavelength. That does distribute it more evenly to everyone who uses the roads, not just those buying fuel or some kind. It's painful, but better than tolls and given that we should be saving overall fuel costs it should not be hard to absorb.

amschloss said...

Toll every road? Hell, that doesn't sound like a half bad idea.

I mean look at it this way: Roads already don't fund themselves, even accounting for the gas tax; there's a TxDOT document online that makes that fact readily apparent. We're already heavily subsidizing roads as it is from more general funds.

Of course, one of the canards used constantly against public transit improvements is the fact that they don't pay for themselves with fares. Why the double standard?

As to your reasonable question of how the roads get paved: Well, with people driving less, do we really need to be building all these expressways in the middle of frickin nowhere? Do we really need to complete I-99? Perhaps our increasingly limited transportation funds need to go to projects that enable the most mobility while using the least infrastructure, rather than continuing to build more roadways.

terry "hussein" pinder said...

I agree adam with a bit of what you have to say. Hey, do you have a link to that study? I'd like to see it and maybe pass it around the office.

However I can make an argument that I-99 is needed infrastructure. At present there is no limited-access roadway that moves north-south through the center of the state and the biggest complaint and barrier in that area is access. That said there are large sections of it that probably won't get built, like north of I-80 to Williamsport, and sections of it from Williamsport to the New York state border. It's just too much. PennDOT right now is only focusing on bridges.

amschloss said...

Here ya go, Terry.

yosh said...

A fee on annual miles driven, which is checked at the annual inspection.

terry "hussein" pinder said...

yes, but why would you have inspection for air quality if we move to fuels that don't pollute as much?

annual miles driven is a concept they're exploring in Oregon though.