Sunday, July 3, 2016

To Tax Or Not To Tax?

Recently a Seattle LEAFer posted a comment urging support for lesser vehicle tab renewal fees.  In some areas, EVers are faced with a $150 EV tab fee along with a Mass transit support tax which can push the annual renewal fees on their LEAFs to over $300.

Well his suggestion did not go over well with the forum and there was a lot of valid reasons why although I am disturbed that we are seeing great programs slighted or simply getting lost in the big picture.  I can understand whining about a $150 EV tax fee (I can understand the dissention but I FULLY support the fee) but then sacrificing the parks system by saying no to $5?? Yeah, that's right; FIVE BUCKS!

So what is the real issue here? overtaxed EVers? Not quite.  Its gasoline withdrawals.  We have been spoiled by the subsidized cost of driving our gasoline cars which has been underfunded for decades.  This allowed us to become addicted to super cheap transportation. So how did this happen?

Loss of Free Choice

Think back to all the old car commercials you remembered seeing as a kid. What is the one theme that you remember most?  Being stuck in traffic? Sucking up someone else's exhaust?  Avoiding other careless drivers?

No, of course not.  How can anyone sell cars with those kinds of messages? What we saw was a single car driving into the Sunset alone on a highway fading into a picturesque horizon, usually a beach or mountain getaway.

Remember the Jeep ads with the car sitting on a mountain top that would challenge any Mountain Goat?  Ever wonder how that car got there? Well, no of course not because your brain was too busy absorbing the subliminal message that with a car, anything was possible!

During our brainwashing, the Oil companies were secretly insuring that our "free will" to choose the car as the primary mode of transportation had no competition. Slowly, support for the train system eroded.  Intercity transit funding faded away as Oil company lobbyists made sure every available dollar was earmarked for the support of cars, gas stations and parking lots. In fact; what little we were paying was also being minimized. The last federal gas tax increase was in 1992. Now its currently 18.4 cents per gallon. Had it been raised based on inflation it would now be 32 cents per gallon or roughly 14 more cents.

14 cents doesn't seem like much and it really isn't but it would have put billions into the support of the highway fund. Now would that 14 cents saved any lives on a Minnesota bridge? Who knows but the fact is that it hasn't been raised so the money to maintain the roads is either siphoned from another program or people die...

But the key takeaway here is that Big Oil got away with destroying public transportation because they created the illusion of free choice. We accepted what Big Oil did because in our own minds, we "chose" cars. Because of that, Big Oil was let off the hook because we were lead to believe we didn't care about mass transit.

Fast forward to today.  Most people still don't care about mass transit because they are too busy bitching about traffic and driver's with minimals skills they have to share the road with.   What is shocking to me is the ONLY reason they are there is because mass transit has been crippled to the point where it CAN'T meet the needs of a large portion of the population who would rather not drive.

Thurston County runs a shuttle service that you must qualify for based on need, income,  etc. Its primarily for the handicapped, elderly, infirmed, etc.  This program is a great idea but is hampered by overwhelming need.  I had a neighbor who drove and by every measure, her license should have been taken away YEARS ago.  We lived on a cul de sac off a main road and too many times I was stuck behind her for several minutes while she waited for a week long opening to make a right turn onto the road. Thank God she almost never turned left!   But that was the start of it. She never drove faster than 20-25 mph but was at least alert enough to pull over to allow us to pass her, something she did several times per mile!

Now some people do have a leg to stand on when complaining about taxes, especially the RTA tax levied for people in a select area to pay for a light rail system that will service the entire region.  The funds are collected by increased sales tax and vehicle registration fees for select areas of Western Washington.

Now, this may come as a shock to those who have declined to pay FIVE BUCKS to the State Parks but I am opposed to the collection of the tax because it is unfairly applied to people in the immediate area while I, who has to drive that region nearly every day, pay nothing.

This means a MUCH slower payoff, a MUCH less effective system when it is built and worst of all; a traffic situation that is getting worse and worse every day.  I posted a link on an earlier post here that stated commuting times have increased nearly 40% since 2012. That is ONLY 4 years ago!

Now, we all know that gas tax, vehicle tab renewals, etc. don't come close to paying for the roads around here. So where does the extra money come from?  Well, in some cases, it comes from the general fund, in other cases, its simply maintenance not done.  I often marvel at the differences in location around the State.  I live in the state capital of Washington and yes, that does mean something.  Right now as we speak, Highway 101 entering Olympia is being resurfaced including parts of I-5.  This part of the freeway was pretty much rut free before the resurfacing mostly because it was just resurfaced about 3-4 years ago and yes, a major portion of the resurfacing was done because of a landslide.  But the fact remains we are spending big bucks to fix a road that didn't need fixing while I-5 around Southcenter looks like ground zero of a bombing run!

So we have two issues; an inequitable spending of funds and an inequitable collection of funds. So why am I not paying my fair share! Who determined I did not want light rail to extend to Thurston County or is it simply the law makers living in Olympia have insured we have ample smooth roads to drive on?  Well, I hate to burst your bubble but the drive home which used to clear up at DuPont is now sucking ALL THE WAY TO OLYMPIA!!!

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