Some positive alternatives to T-SPLOSTs
For some people, the sales tax is the answer to everything. Even for transportation.
With imagination — some call it vision — it is not that hard to come up with answers other than a sales tax. Negative thinking seldom produces positive results, but positive thinking does. So take a look at these ideas.
Who drives on roads? The answer: people who have a driver’s license. They’re the ones who should be interested in improving our roads, not the old ladies in the nursing home who don’t drive anywhere.
By and large, our Georgia driver’s licenses now cost $32 for eight years, or $4 a year. Compared with other states — think Florida, at $48 — that seems quite low.
That could be raised to $20 a year without greatly hurting any driver’s pocketbook. Getting automobile insurance causes a much greater financial hurt.
In a state with 10 million residents, it is easy to conceive we have about 7 million licensed drivers. Raising the annual cost of a driver’s license by $16 would produce $112 million a year.
That’s not an amount to be laughed at, and it would help. Moreover the tax would fall upon the right people, namely drivers.
Motor vehicles are what’s traveling on our roads. A tax on motor vehicles is logical. Of course, it must be kept reasonable and affordable.
Our Georgia car tags (or license plates) now cost $20 a year. That could be doubled to $40 without too much pain, and if we have 10 million registered vehicles in Georgia — as businesses own some as well as individuals — the revenue available would increase by $200 million a year.
How about a tax on the value of motor vehicles?
I seriously doubt our Georgia legislature did something smart by removing the so-called birthday tax in this last session.
That property tax went to county governments, for county and school operations, and now the state has pledged to replace the lost revenue by handing out more money to the counties out of general revenue.
In essence, the state has thoughtlessly dug a bigger budget hole for itself, and down the road it will try to renege on its promise to the counties and school boards.
A thoughtful argument can, however, be made that the value of a vehicle has no real impact on road construction or maintenance costs, though the weight of a vehicle might. Tax surcharges for extra weight might make sense. I cannot readily come up with projected revenues on that, but the potential is there.
It wouldn’t hurt to reconsider our gas tax.
Right now, our state gas tax is a tax per gallon of fuel, supplemented by a sales tax included in the overall price.
But people are increasingly driving cars that get much better mileage than they used to, and electric cars can be driven without paying any gas tax.
For the same mileage driven on our state roads, the state is now collecting less and less in gas tax. And that’s because the state is taxing the wrong thing.
What needs to be taxed is the mileage.
With modern technology, that’s not difficult. All vehicles have odometers that record accrued mileage. These are generally highly tamper-resistant and reliable.
A vehicle’s mileage is recorded on every annual Georgia Vehicle Emissions Inspection Report turned in electronically to the state. It is recorded on car maintenance and repair invoices. And it can be visually inspected at any time, including upon police traffic stops.
If Georgia required odometer mileage reports on registered vehicles, perhaps for filing along with state income tax returns or upon renewing car tags, it could implement a mileage tax.
Note, by the way, that Georgia car owners over the age of 65 who drive a vehicle over 10 years old already report their mileage, each year, if they seek exemption from getting an emissions inspection for having driven less than 5,000 miles in the previous year. So, mileage reports already exist.
Think of all the miles driven in Georgia. If we have 10 million vehicles driven an average of 10,000 miles per year, that’s 100 billion miles. One cent per mile — the ultimate penny tax — could yield the state $1 billion per year. It would cost the average driver $100.
We could possibly still have a tax per gallon to discourage neighboring states’ residents from loading up on cheap gas in Georgia while avoiding our mileage tax, but it could be greatly reduced.
The per-mile tax could be in fractions of a cent, like .8 or 1.2, and changed from time to time as our state needs and circumstances warrant.
There you have it: for roads, you look at (1) drivers’ licenses, (2) motor vehicle tag fees, (3) motor vehicle weight, (4) mileage, and (5) a reasonable gas tax.
You don’t look at general sales, including food, clothing, diapers, schoolbooks, home appliances, furniture, heat pumps and other essential items unrelated to transportation.
Do we have any legislators who come up with ideas like that? Nah. And that’s the shame of it.
Do they ever ask us, the people, to come up with ideas like that? No, they don’t do that either.
It is nice to knock down T-SPLOST and regional commissions and all that hoopla, but negative thinking does not solve the problem.
Positive thinking is what produces positive results, and it’s a shame that our good ol’ boy elected officials don’t show any more inclination to encourage positive thinking and to solicit the public’s ideas.
It will be interesting to see what happens to the thoughts I have presented here today. If I ever hear from any legislator anywhere about this, I’ll let you know.
[A resident of Fayette County, Claude Y. Paquin is a retired lawyer and actuary whose course concentration at Emory Law School was on tax law. He received the Prentice-Hall tax award from Emory, but as Emory is no party school he missed out on the Tea Party. Too bad.]