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Mileage Taxes are Regressive!

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Dear Legislators: 

You’ve already hit us in most states with increases in regressive sales taxes.  Unlike the choice you should have promoted--steeply progressive income taxes that ask for sacrifices from the greedy rich--sales taxes demand a greater contribution from the less economically fortunate relative to their income.

And, now you’re trying to slip by even another regressive tax.  To raise income to make the necessary improvements to our roads and highways, you are considering taxing drivers by the number of miles they drive rather than by taxes on gallons of gasoline used.      

Regressive?  Yes, indeed! 

How come?  Isn’t it fair to charge people based on how much they use the roads?  Perhaps, but only if everyone’s "driving on the same playing field".  What do you mean--couldn't people choose to drive fewer miles and pay less tax?  Well, of course. If they’re rich.

Let’s take a look at two hypothetical taxees:

One is a successful banker.  He lives in town in a large mansion and owns several cars.  He usually likes to drive his Hummer the two miles to his luxury office in a downtown high rise with compensated parking and then another mile on his way home to the gym.  He could walk a few blocks to his local subway station and take it two stops to his office, but, the subway is literally and figuratively beneath him.  If he makes Vice President this year, he may even get himself a chauffeur.

The other is a working class man, with a wife and two children.  He can’t afford to live in the high-rent district in town.  His townhouse is in a cookie-cutter development in an exurb 50 miles from his job, where he hopes to keep his children safe from gangs and drugs.  He has to get up at 5:30 am every morning to warm up his Corolla and drive the two hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic to be at work on time.  He’s thought about taking the train into town, but he’d have to drive 15 miles south in heavy traffic, pay for parking, pay for the train, go downtown to the Central Station and then take the subway to his job in mid-city.  His costs would be greater, and he’d have to get up at 4.


The banker would pay minimal road repair taxes if mileage were the criterion used.  In that scenario, the working class man, priced out of a home in Manhattan, L.A., San Francisco, Boston, Washington, or any thriving city center, would actually have to pay a penalty for not being able to afford to live close to his work.  Even if he chose a high-mileage car such as a hybrid—and could afford it—he’d still be paying more tax than his royally rich fellow citizen. 

Well done, legislators.  You've come up with another perk for the wealthy donors to your campaign fund. 

No.  This must not come to pass.  Safe and modern roads and infrastructure help everyone, not just those who toil in the traffic every day.  The jobs provided for construction and repair boost the economy resulting in benefits for all. The reduction in damage to vehicles on the roads reduces accidents, the reduction in accidents reduces health care costs—for all.  Any taxes passed must, MUST, be progressive; in other words, higher for those with the highest incomes.  Even if the rich have the luxury to telecommute from their technology-laden home offices, or not to work at all, they have a civic obligation to return a contribution to the well-being of our society’s structure and infrastructure.

So, you need more money to repair roads?  Do as they do in Europe—tax gasoline more intensively (and provide safe and adequate, inexpensive low-cost transportation options such as public transport and high-mileage cars); and tax luxury or low-mileage vehicles a significant percentage based on their monetary value and environmental cost.

"No" to the regressive taxes on mileage! 

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Jill Jackson is a practitioner of kindness and common sense. Unlike her cat, she prefers to think out of the box.

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