The tax man rides shot­gun Black boxes would brake the free­dom of the road

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - By Adam Bran­don

In 1973, Richard Fos­ter’s short story “A Nice Morn­ing Drive” imag­ined a fu­ture in which in­creas­ingly strin­gent ve­hi­cle reg­u­la­tions had ren­dered all con­ven­tional au­to­mo­biles il­le­gal in fa­vor of gov­ern­ment-ap­proved mon­strosi­ties. The story was meant as a warn­ing against the dan­gers of creep­ing, in­cre­men­tal reg­u­la­tions that seem harm­less at first, but are cu­mu­la­tively tyran­ni­cal.

Forty years later, our own Fos­ter-es­que sce­nario is play­ing out with the prospect of a lit­tle black box on your car’s dash­board that would trans­mit your ve­hi­cle-use data to a gov­ern­ment tax col­lec­tor. This is what some in Wash­ing­ton and var­i­ous state leg­is­la­tures are propos­ing as a way to bol­ster rev­enues for the strug­gling High­way Trust Fund, now run­ning a struc­tural deficit of around $15 bil­lion.

By tax­ing driv­ers based on how far they drive, the amount each in­di­vid­ual pays to main­tain the roads would di­rectly cor­re­spond with how much they use them. It’s not so much a tax as a “user fee” that is both eco­nom­i­cally ef­fi­cient and lacks the re­dis­tribu­tive com­po­nent of most taxes. Th­ese fea­tures make it an im­prove­ment over the gas tax, which, in ad­di­tion to be­ing po­lit­i­cally un­pop­u­lar, taxes in a way that im­per­fectly cor­re­sponds with how much peo­ple ac­tu­ally drive.

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