The Moment I Realized I'd Left Reality and Was Now a Resident of Cloudcookooland IV

So, Prime Minister Paul Martin (Liberal) negotiates a last minute deal that shares revenue from offshore reserves with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland without clawing back as much of the equalization payments both provinces receive from confederation.

Of course, other provinces which pay into the equalization program and who have significant natural resources (see Saskatchewan, Ontario) want a similar deal, now.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty (Liberal) says that Ottawa has shafted Canada’s most populous province enough, and if Paul Martin doesn’t give him what Ontarians wants, federal Liberal MPs are going to pay at the ballot box.

Ontario opposition leader John Tory (Conservative) warns McGuinty that he should tone down his rhetoric if Ontario actually wants to receive money from Ottawa.

Let’s recap: you have a Liberal PM facing an attack by a Liberal premier who is being held off by a Tory opposition leader — who is presumably weakening the position of the federal opposition leader (if only slightly) who also happens to be Conservative.

I guess Jack and Howard will just have to smash their own heads together…

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For all of you red meat loving, anti-tax conservative libertarians out there, this one’s for you.

I’m listening to CBC’s As it Happens and Barbara Budd (I think) is interviewing a politician in Salem, Oregon, who is bent on introducing a different type of fuel tax. Instead of taxing cars by gallon, he wants to tax them by the mile. You can see the Seattle Times report on the pilot project here.

The way the spokesman from Oregon framed the issue, Oregon was receiving a decent income from gas taxes… until the gas-electric hybrids came along. Although the stagnant economy may be the bigger reason Oregon gax tax revenues have remained static since 1999, these Oregonian officials look at the rising market share of hybrids and they shudder. They hope a per-mile tax would replace a per-gallon tax before further increases in fuel-efficiency render gas taxes meaningless.

But rising fuel efficiency, says the incredulous Barbara Budd. Cleaner air! Decreased dependence on foreign oil. Aren’t these all good things? (Please note I’m paraphrasing)

“Well, they’re good for the environment and they’re good for the country’s energy policy,” says the Salem official, leaving the “but” hanging in the air.

Now, there are some good arguments for paying for your driving by the mile. This way, gas-electric SUVs and diesel SUVs, which do equal damage to the roads they drive on, pay the same level of tax. But where I come from, we already have a name for this type of tax. It’s called a road toll. Why not replace gas taxes with road tolls?

Especially when the means of collecting the tax take the CBC interview into even more ludicrous territory.

“So, how are you going to enforce this? Are you going to have somebody look at odometers as they renew their license?” asks Barbara Budd.

“Oh, no,” says the official. “That would be much to expensive.”

Instead, as part of a pilot project, Oregon officials are looking to fit 400 cars in Eugene with an electronic reader that would track mileage clocked by the car (from where I come from, we call these “odometers”) while it is driven in Oregon (oh). These devices would be scanned by a wireless reader whenever the car drove into a filling station to fuel up, with the taxes would be applied at the cash register.

“This sounds sort of expensive,” says Barbara.

“Actually, the readers are quite cheap.”

This is a six year pilot project, budgeted at $3 million, $2 million of which have come from the cash-strapped federal government in D.C.

Where do I begin?

Privacy issues? That black box in your car’s got to have a GPS locator in it to know whether or not you’re cruising blacktop in Oregon or Washington. How about the fact that this tax doesn’t charge Washingtonian residents who drive on Oregonian roads? How about the fact that these politicos in Oregon are trying to reinvent the wheel? And don’t get me started on the spokesman’s desire to enforce this tax by getting the car manufacturers and the fuel companies, rather than the public, to comply!

The best taxes are those which benefit society when they’re paid, and which benefit society when one legally avoids paying them. I’m listening to this report and I’m seeing gas-electric hybrids being punished for succeeding in making the prospect of weening the western world from its oil addiction appear in our wildest dreams.

Why, really, do the politicians of Salem want to charge by the mile instead of the gallon? Road use is a red herring. You can be sure that those who drive more purchase more gas and thus pay more tax. Rather, I think the politicos found that the rules that they set for themselves didn’t work out as well as they hoped. And rather than having the courage to raise the revenues they need by raising gas taxes or income taxes or imposing tolls honestly, they’re trying to sneak a new system past the electorate using fancy technology and lame excuses.

So, red meat conservatives looking for me to cite an example of bureaucracy gone haywire, trying to reinvent the wheel when perfectly good tools already exist, here it is, in Salem, Oregon.

And all hail the hybrid car. Let’s order a million of them, then jack up gas prices to two dollars a litre. You can even lower income taxes to compensate.

P.S. Oregon and other states (Washington is considering a mileage tax to supplement, rather than replace, their gas tax) may well worry about what they’ll do with the roads when fuel efficiency makes gas taxes all but obsolete, but as I said before, there are always tolls for the expressways, and property taxes for the local roads. The system’s worked fairly well this past century, so I see no need to reinvent it.

Then there is the fact that the technology for building good roads and repairing them back to health is becoming cheaper as advances are made in technology. There is a machine out there that goes along at five miles per hour, chews up the top layer of asphalt, boils the chips down, adds in filler, and lays down a good layer of smooth blacktop behind it, ready to be driven on within the hour.

Failing that, you could reduce the number of roads being built by reining in urban sprawl…

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