The Gasoline Tax: Charles Krauthammer Breaks with Republican Orthodoxy March 14, 2016

Charles Krauthammer, generally regarded as a conservative writer, declared more than a year ago that he had been for a gasoline tax increase of $1 a gallon for 32 years.  That would be, if I calculate right, since 1983. I’ve been of the same view, especially since I started spending a lot more time in Europe after the turn of the millennium.  Thinking of a state level tax, I, recognizing the burden that this tax would have on working families, imagined some kind of Cal – Earned Income Tax Credit.  Krauthammer, it turns out, advocated this tax on a national level, and he would compensate for it by cutting the FICA, or payroll tax, that highly regressive tax that hits the less affluent harder than the income tax, by what I figure to be $624 a year.  A so-called carbon tax, as far as I’m concerned, would be similar to a gasoline tax, and should be similarly compensated by a tax cut for the less affluent.  The Cap and Trade system, which California has adopted, is to me less desirable, as I have said before.

I must have felt pretty strongly about this.  It was the imposition of Norquistian ideology, ‘No Tax Shall Ever Be Raised Ever Ever’, that meant the Republican Party could never consider proposals of this kind; so I left it. And no, I didn’t see Donald Trump coming; though what he represents is the replacement of American fusion conservatism by a European right wing model, a cross between Berlusconi, Jörg Haider, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and others of that kind.  I admit that I am not ready for this, and frankly I’m scared.

There is a real problem; we have in fact succeeded in reducing gasoline consumption through more efficient cars, and not just hybrids.  There are now cars that are not hybrids but have a stop-start system that turns off when a vehicle is stopped.  So gasoline tax revenues, traditionally devoted to roads, bridges, and transit, have been decreasing, and might decrease further even with a much higher tax.  To have a good tax for funding infrastructure, some have thought of taxing the number of miles a car drives each year.  I don’t mind the tax, but I’m not alone in worrying about the means to collect it.  I assume it’s very easy to hack a traditional odometer.  A compulsory account like my toll road boxes might be OK but (a) it could probably be hacked too, (b) what happens if you go out of state?, and (c) I don’t mind paying tax but I don’t want a government imposed machine to know everyplace I go.  You’d end up with a confrontation like that which Apple is having with the government right now.  If we could count the miles in an unhackable way without tracking all my movements, that would be best.

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