News & Politics

The Road to Serfdom, California-Style

As if the Big Brother vision of Big Government weren’t already onerous enough, along comes another bad idea whose time the Left dearly hopes is approaching: the Vehicle Miles Traveled tax.

For decades, consultant Steve Schnaidt of Sacramento was one of the state Capitol’s go-to experts on transportation financing. Through those years, there was one constant, he says: “When I came in and when I went out, it was the same problem – we were short of money.”

That’s why the Land Park retiree signed up as a volunteer for the California Road Charge pilot program, a test launched this month by the state of a potential new way to fund road repair and other transportation projects. For the next nine months, Schnaidt and up to 5,000 other volunteers will report their driving miles to the state – or have their mileage monitored by the state – and will be “charged” a fee per mile they drive.

Currently, California — like every other state — finances road construction and repair via taxes on gasoline. Oregon has already experimented with a pilot program, but now the Big Dog of states is getting into the VMT act.

California funds much of its road repairs through a tax at the gas pump. That source has failed for years to provide enough money. The tax hasn’t been raised since 1994 and has fallen way behind inflation while road-repair costs increase. At the same time, cars have become more fuel efficient, so drivers don’t go to the gas pump as often. Gas pump revenues will dwindle even more if more drivers turn to hybrid gas-electric or all-electric vehicles.

State transportation officials say the state is many billions of dollars short of revenues it needs to catch up on repairs. So, the question is, is there some politically palatable way to replace the pump tax?

That assumes they will in fact replace the pump tax — which, of course, they won’t. Like the dreaded VAT (value-added tax) which is supposed to replace the income tax but would in fact simply be superimposed on top of it, you can bet the VMT will be just another add-on in a state that cannot suck enough cash out of peoples’ pockets.

The other issue is one of state surveillance of private travel, but since no one seems to care that your new car is already monitoring you and things like EZ Pass in the northeast rat you out when you use the toll roads, that battle is already lost.