Friday, November 13, 2015

A Bad Approach to Our Potholes

After several years of wrangling and the decisive defeat of a referendum, our Michigan legislators enacted a program designed to fix our deteriorating highways, roads, and bridges. Everyone agrees the infrastructure needs work. No one seems to agree the new program is a good answer to the problems.

The financing is far from what our accountant governor sought. Big tax collections for repairs are deferred for years into the future. Despite some smoke and mirrors, the program includes substantial tax increases, to the dismay of many of our Republican legislators. Democrats are expressing general dislike for a major part of the plan that will cut other important programs in the future should the economy fail to grow to unlikely levels.

Yet I've not heard a lot of complaints about one feature of the plan that I find worthy of scorn. The good guys among Michigan vehicle owners are going to be penalized for their efforts.

Our state has above-average rates of health problems, such as asthma, associated with air pollution. Sensible people would think our political leaders would be doing everything possible to clean up what we breath. Not so, it seems.

Vehicle registration fees will increase 20 percent starting in 2017 under the new plan to bring in additional revenue for infrastructure work. No problem there, BUT owners of electric or hybrid vehicles with pay $30 to $200 more than owners of comparable gas guzzlers. The tab for those who prove their concern for air quality by what they buy and drive will total about $216 million of the $400 million provided by registration taxes.

Supposedly, this unequal registration taxation is to level the field because the electrics and hybrids obviously use less gasoline and therefore pay a smaller part of the taxes collected at the pump than do other vehicle owners. That is true, BUT shouldn't the goal be to discourage gas usage, thus conserving a nonrenewable resource (oil) while helping to reduce air pollution? Of course it should.

In California, a state long concerned about poor air quality primarily due to motor vehicles, a better approach to registration fees is in place. Owners of electric vehicles pay about 6.5 percent less than owners of other vehicles, or about $20 less per year for a modestly priced new car. This is the right way to go; our Michigan legislators have chosen the wrong way.

(Disclosure: The Geezer's vehicle is an elderly Pontiac that runs on gasoline.)


Tom Sightings said...

I agree, penalizing hybrids seems silly. But remember, they gotta get the electricity from somewhere, and it's usually from coal, oil and gas burning generators. Hybrids are better; but not the answer. How come there's no modern high-speed rail line connecting Boston, NY, Philadelphia. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago?

Dick Klade said...

Tom . . . Right you are, most electricity in the U.S. is generated at plants using coal that are big polluters. However, that part of the problem is being dealt with through requirements that utilities produce increased amounts of electricity from solar and wind in future years. Other plants are cutting pollution by converting to natural gas.

Rummuser said...

Over here, it is comedy of a different kind that takes place almost on a daily basis. Here are a couple of such cases.

PiedType said...

As I recall, a similar penalty on hybrids was proposed here in Colorado. It didn't get very far. Meantime, we are busily building and expanding light rail around the metro. Public transportation has never been my cup of tea, but it might get some cars off our crowded highways. New HOV lanes are also being added to some of the busiest routes. Denver's long had air pollution problems because it's in a sort of bowl and because there are so many cars. It's somewhat better now but the govt. is complaining again that it's not good enough.

Dick Klade said...

Pied . .. Expansion of light rail in the Salt Lake City metro area when we lived there did a lot of good. We were subject to lots of bad air during temperature inversions, probably the same sort of weather events that plague Denver. Air pollution problems are so widespread and diverse, we probably need to push a whole variety of measures to clean things up.

Anonymous said...

Conflicing interests are at work everywhere. Light rail would be lovely, but costly too.

Dick Klade said...

Yep. Light rail wouldn't be worth the investment in the area where we live. In southeast Michigan, however, it could be a winner. Each interest thinks their projects deserve most of the funding, creating some political problems in this state.

Jhawh23 said...

Virginia also has had some experiments with special treatment of gas-sipping and gas-eschewing vehicles, including giving them special privilege to use the high-occupancy lanes even if they don't have the required number of passengers. What a big uproar resulted when it was proposed to cut off that special treatment!

But it was dumb to provide them such privileges in the first place. The payback for buying a gas-saving vehicle is, and should be, the money that can be saved on gasoline. Thats why i think you are entirely correct that the government should not tax those vehicles more heavily. Most states tax alcohol but I'm not aware of any that require teetotalers to pay more liquor tax!