Raising Taxes By the Mile
by Ak'Bar A. Shabazz (bio)
During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama endeared himself to many voters with a promise that 95 percent of Americans would get a tax cut and those making under $250,000 "would not see a single dime of tax increase - not on anything."
Since Obama won and he's already spent so much, it was only a matter of time before his pledge went by the wayside.
First came new taxes on tobacco to pay for middle-class kids' health care.
Now Representative James Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, wants a vehicle mileage tax (VMT) imposed on every vehicle. And he wants it right away. When a colleague suggested state-level pilot programs to test the feasibility of the tax, Oberstar replied: "It's going to be done, it's something we have to do. Why not just move it along?"
Oberstar hopes for a vote as early as June.
Obama's transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, promoted a VMT back in February. Although the White House backed off LaHood's trial balloon then, Congress may now try to ram it down Americans' throats.
What about that campaign promise? Oberstar and LaHood - and Obama, by extension - must believe only the richest five percent of Americans drive. Or buy goods and services delivered by truck.
Truly, a VMT is a tax on all Americans.
We've all heard the outcry about oil companies making record profits last year when gas prices spiked. When people cut back on driving, gas tax revenue fell and scared tax-dependent lawmakers. The VMT is considered a new revenue fix.
But, as the Heritage Foundation's Curtis Dubey notes:
A VMT would be expensive to implement because every car would need to be fitted with a device that both records miles driven and transmits the information to a government database. This complicated system would cost millions and raise concerns of Big Brother watching our every moment.
A back-door tax increase is bad enough. To think the government would know and record Americans' behavior behind the wheel brings up new civil rights and civil liberties worries.
How about a future where speeding tickets are based on drivers beating a government-estimated trip time? A parking violation is meted out by satellite? Threatened cancellation of government-sponsored health care comes after a driver is observed frequenting the local McDonalds too much?
Then there are the demands of the green lobby.
Radical environmentalists have long demanded Americans reduce gasoline consumption. Making gasoline less affordable contributes significantly to that end. A VMT satisfies the green lobby while setting up a whole new system of taxation and government oversight.
It's obvious that politicians such as Oberstar and LaHood aren't thinking about the big picture.
What about people who choose to move to the suburbs, or who are forced there by urban gentrification but still commute to jobs in cities? What about family vacation drives to see relatives or our national wonders? What about far-away college choices? All these life decisions may now have to factor in the tax man's cut.
At risk are families living on the edge and those hoping to move on up the ladder of prosperity.
The American public, their rights to privacy and their financial well-being are once again coming in second to politics as usual.
# # #
Ak'Bar A. Shabazz is a member of the national advisory council for the Project 21 black leadership network and president of Shabazz Enterprises. Comments may be sent to [email protected].
Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints
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