Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Why We Love Our Governor

Perusing the Drudge Report this afternoon, we noticed this headline: "California Considers Taxing Drivers -- By The Mile." Our initial reaction was that this was likely another instance of the California legislature attempting to penalize citizens who do things like drive environmentally unfriendly cars under the guise of curbing pollution. Think of it as a morality tax, similar to the taxes states place on cigarettes: the equivalent of a punitive tax on SUVs in an effort to prevent people from buying them, because, as we all know, anyone who drives an SUV hates the environment and deserves to be punished. In years past, stories like these were doubly troubling, because it was likely such measures would be passed into law. Today, however, our first thought was: the Governor would never let that happen.

Yes, we mean Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger has restored a healthy dose of common sense to the statehouse, and not a moment too soon. Under Gray Davis it had been a haven for liberals looking to test out their radical (and often debilitating, economically and otherwise) ideas on the people of California. That's part of the reason that the state was in such bad shape when Davis was recalled back in 2003, and why Schwarzenegger was the perfect man to replace him. Yes, he is the most politically astute politician California has seen since Ronald Reagan, but good political instincts don't necessarily mean you'll do a good job once you're elected. The reason the Governor has started to turn the state around isn't all that complicated: unlike most of the elected officials in Sacramento, he has a lot of common sense. And he's not afraid to use it.

We think it's partly due to his background, growing up around communism in Austria, then coming to the United States with little more than his insatiable drive to be the best. He made his money the old-fashioned way: by earning it. He knows what it takes to build a successful business, and he understands why small businesses are vital to the state's health, economically and otherwise. He's lived, worked, and succeeded in the real world; unlike career politicians or those who have never worked in the private sector, Schwarzenegger doesn't need a bevy of "experts" to tell him what works and what doesn't. Thank goodness he has veto power over any crazy idea to come out of the General Assembly.

* * *

After reading the article about the per-mile tax, we realized that our assumption was incorrect. It seems that as more and more people buy hybrid cars that use considerably less gasoline, states are concerned that they will bring in less revenue from their gasoline tax. As a possible replacement, Oregon is testing a new "per-mile" tax measured by a GPS system installed on the car itself.

If the gas tax is intended to be equivalent to a service fee for using the state's roads and highways, it makes sense that a per-mile tax would be a better gauge of what that fee ought to be, as it factors out the wildly divergent miles-per-gallon rates of various types of automobiles.

However, it should be noted that integral to this tax being levied is the state knowing, at all times, where your car is. From a community safety/law enforcement standpoint, that might be a good thing, but in terms of civil liberties, it certainly is not. Also subject to debate is the nature of the gas tax itself -- is it really meant to be a road use fee, or is it meant to be a tax on gas? We thought it was a tax on gas. We're aware that taxes go toward the construction and upkeep of our roads and highways, but we didn't realize the relationship was so direct. (Nor should it be, in our opinion.) Changing the tax seems to be a way for states to maintain their revenue levels. But we don't think the purpose of taxation is so that the government ensures it brings in x amount of dollars, regardless of the particulars of each tax.

Replacing the gas tax also eliminates part of the reason why people are buying higher-mileage hybrids in the first place. Certainly states don't want to discourage their citizens from buying these more environmentally-conscious automobiles.

We admit, however, that if states are intent on obtaining the amount of revenue they're accustomed to by whatever means necessary, the per-mile tax being discussed is preferable to the alternative, which is simply increasing the gas tax -- an unlikely move but not out of the realm of possibility. Doing anthing that raises the price of gas, especially now, is not going to be a popular move, but it could be justified by a politician as an environmentally important measure in that it would potentially spur on more citizens to buy hybrids. But that would penalize anyone without a hybrid (most of us) or the means to buy one (again, most of us).

So, what's the best move? We're not sure. But we know one thing: as long as Schwarzenegger's in office, we don't have to worry about every kook proposal discussed in the statehouse being signed into law anymore. And that's why, next year, we think the Governator will be soundly re-elected...that is, elected for his first full term.


Blogger Sheik Yerbootie said...

Here in the Nutmeg State, our Govenatress, the Honorable Jodi Rell, has proposed an additional .06ยข per gallon tax for this next budget. We already pay more than any other state per gallon. Additionally, we have a tax the tax system in which all taxes are added to the gallon price and then 6% sales tax on that total.

Another correction - the Oregon DOT is using GPS as a baseline developer and test. Using GPS would run into major privacy problems never mind the technical problems.

This is actually something that I feel is very practical and would work very well. It just seems that it's such a good idea that it will never fly.

3:57 AM  
Blogger Dean Barnett said...

Nice post! Very well done.

4:38 AM  

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