U.S. Transportation Secretary wants to drop gas taxes in favor of tolls

If the goal is to incentivize people to use less petroleum does it really make sense to reduce the cost of that commodity? You have to give the Bush administration credit for consistency, at least, when it comes to wrongheaded thinking. The latest example of dubious policy directions comes from Transportation Secretary Mary Peters who is proposing that taxes on gasoline should be lowered and replaced by tolls or congestion charges. The problem with this idea is that unless the fees are tied to fuel consumption, a large incentive to reducing petroleum use is eliminated.

With a requirement for automakers to meet a 35 mpg standard now law, there needs to be a reason for people to buy smaller, more efficient engines. When gas prices go up people buy those more efficient cars. Shifting from fuel taxes to road taxes will be counterproductive. Peters argues that higher gas taxes won't be accepted by people because they don't trust the money to be spent efficiently. However, just because the basis for taxation is changed will not change the way people think about how the money is spent. With tolls that don't discriminate against thirstier vehicles, what they drive will make no difference to commuters. Unless they feel the pain at the pump when they fill up, people tend to go for the most car they can afford. This plan is just plain stupid.

[Source: Seattle Times, via TTAC]

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