November 16, 2004

God I hate California sometimes

Today the Governator appointed a new DMV chief for California. No big deal right? Well, this time it is. The new head, Joan Borucki, longtime Caltrans official and a Democrat to boot, is a big proponent of switching from a gas-tax to a per-mile tax. State officials are worried that because California is a hotbed of hybrid vehicles, the state is losing money. Giant gas guzzlers like the H2 and Chevy Suburban are good; they go through fuel quickly and cause people to spend more at the pumps. Hybrids and other high-fuel -efficient cars are bad, because people don’t use enough gas to pay for the damage cars do to the roads. But H2s are bad, because they use up so much gas, causing air pollution and furthering our dependency on foreign oil. And hybrids are good, they wean us off a depleting natural resource and don’t nearly as much damage to California’s air quality. I always thought the high gas taxes were supposed to cause people to move to more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Don’t worry, it gets better. You might be asking yourself how a per-mile tax would work. It’s simple, the DMV would simply install a monitor in your car and periodically check where you were going and what roads you used. That’s a nice little Orwell situation isn’t it? Let’s put this in easy terms: The government (a badly-ran department, no less) would simply have access to your whereabouts and movement patterns all the time. How long before this information would be subpoenaed and used in the courts?

This is an awful idea even when you don’t consider the civil liberties issue. For the record, Caltrans is expecting you not to care. They aren’t even pretending that they do. Check this nice quote from today’s LA Times by “transportation expert” Elizabeth Deakins, “While some people are concerned about civil liberties, most people are not. One of the things we found from focus groups and surveys is that most people said if the government wanted to track you, they have other ways to do it." In other words, people think they can be tracked, so why don’t we confirm it!

Other horrible outcomes from this misbegotten idea

-Visitors (and it’s not like California is destination site, now is it) won’t pay a single dime for the damage and traffic they cause to the state’s roads. Since they don’t have to register the vehicle, and there would be no gas-tax, they don’t pay anything.

-As long as we’re on the subject of car registration, how much of an incentive is it to change your registration when you move into the state? How many people actually switch over as soon as they move? Why not fake it as long as you could?

-This idea would entail higher user fees for peak hours. Meaning if you used a busy freeway during rush hour you’d pay more than other times. This is fine, since everyone sets their own schedule for work… Wait, very few people have that luxury. In fact, the reason rush hour is so crowded is that everyone HAS to work those hours. Yay! More money for the state!

-This would effectively end any incentive for people to buy more fuel-efficient cars. A tiny gas-miser car like the Toyota Prius driven 50 miles each day would pay as much road tax as an H2 driven 50 miles a day. Look, I hate government controlled anything, but I don’t mind government influenced. Giant SUVs are bad. They use more gas, they cause more damage to the roads, they take up more space, they crush smaller cars in accidents. All of those are Bad Things. Giving a break to people who don’t do Bad Things is something the government can do. If you want to do Bad Things, you should pay more for the privilege.

-Arnie’s proposed new DMV head is lifelong government employee; she’s been at Caltrans for 24 years. As anyone who’s lived in California for more than 8 minutes can tell you, Caltrans doesn’t want to make anything any easier for those who commute by car. They want you OUT of your car. They want you in buses that take four times as long to get anywhere, they want you in trains out in the middle of nowhere, they want you in subways built for no apparent reason. That’s why is so important that the peak hours thing is so important. If you can’t afford your fees, and your boss won’t let you work from 12-8 each day, don’t worry: there is a Caltrans bus there to take your destination. Two hours early or two hours late, which would you prefer? For the record: I was car-less for a year in Orange and San Diego counties. My workdays would usually last from 4AM-8PM. Yeah, the bus is super convenient.

God, this idea is so bad it make my teeth hurt.

Posted by Frinklin at November 16, 2004 07:02 PM

rolled into your site through Blog Explosion and wanted to say hi. Stop by my site, I am having a contest for a Christmas Stuffed Animal.

Posted by: brent at November 17, 2004 07:39 PM

please do some research on this subject before you make any judgements. Per-mile road user fees are, in fact, very smart. Check out for more details

Posted by: NOLIPS at November 18, 2004 09:26 PM
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