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Vehicle miles traveled tax hurts more than motorists

Joe Naiman

Special to the Village News

While having lunch with my parents, I mentioned that I had recently seen one of my childhood friends. My mother reminded my father that we carpooled together when we were in junior high school.

The advantages of carpooling thus include not only reduced gas consumption and decreased traffic congestion but also social benefits. At this point, the biggest disadvantage of carpooling is that everybody has to return at the same time.

Enactment of a vehicle miles traveled tax could change that. Going out of one’s way to pick up somebody else would increase the mileage subject to the tax and thus would increase the tax liability. A driver would thus be penalized for vehicle mileage efficiency.

That is not the only likely adverse consequence of a vehicle miles traveled tax. The increased cost of business travel due to the tax may be passed on to clients, or consumers in the case of goods delivery trucks, but would be deductible from company or self-employed proprietor income tax.

Commuters, parents driving children to school, shoppers purchasing items which cannot be carried, designated drivers increasing their distance to transport an intoxicated or tired person safely, and others would not have that business deduction.

The consequences of a per-mile tax would require the tax to survive legal challenges. A per-mile tax would need to pass a nexus between the assessment and the use, so it would be subject to a legal challenge if it is collected for miles outside of California, on private roads, or in parking lots.

If the San Diego Association of Governments implements a per-mile tax for San Diego County, it would also be subject to a legal challenge if it is collected for driving in other California counties, and if it is imposed on San Diego County residents only, commuters from Riverside County would be using San Diego County roads but not paying the tax. Since sovereign Indian reservations are exempt from local taxation travel on tribal land would also need to be addressed.

The Environmental Impact Report or Mitigated Negative Declaration for a per-mile tax would need to address the impacts to residential streets if motorists reduce mileage and thus their tax obligation by traveling shorter distances rather than on freeways or boulevards.

Citizens can also reduce their tax burden by putting batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, and other hazardous household waste in their trash rather than driving to a household hazardous waste recycling center, so the ground contamination a per-mile tax would cause would also need to be addressed in the environmental documentation.

There are two primary ways to access the San Diego Country Estates area of Ramona from the south. The trip using State Route 67 is seven miles longer than traveling on Wildcat Canyon Road. Last year I attended a birthday party in San Diego Country Estates. Because the birthday party was on a Sunday, I took Highway 67 to avoid Barona Casino traffic. A per-mile tax will encourage travel on more congested roads.

If those roads are not widened, the increased emissions from the congestion will offset any environmental benefits of a per-mile tax, and increased congestion on roads used by public transit buses would decrease the feasibility of that option compared to driving.

On one nighttime trip from Ramona to the south, I returned by Wildcat Canyon Road due to the mountains protecting that road from the fog which was likely on parts of Highway 67. I do not like driving Highway 67 in the rain, and after a sporting event at Ramona High School was postponed, my plans to travel from Ramona to Spring Valley that night were scrapped.

Wildcat Canyon Road north of Barona Casino has a dip and a corresponding “Turn Around Don’t Drown” sign. I realized that a per-mile tax would encourage more driving on riskier roads.

The opposition to a per-mile tax focuses on the economic hardship of those in the private sector whose salaries can’t be increased by raising other people’s taxes, but the side effects will have impacts on more than just the drivers.


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