Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My Morning Wooten

Jim does News Of The Weird.
In Massachusetts, Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick is expected to unveil a proposal this week to use GPS chips to charge motorists a quarter-cent per mile traveled. “It’s outrageous; it’s kind of Orwellian, Big Brotherish,” said a Republican state senator, Scott Brown, who’s drafted legislation to prohibit the practice.
Uh, no. I predict once again we will reach consensus that this is a really bad idea.

Jim and I are on quite an agreement streak lately. A by-product of Democrats in power?


Sara said...

Ah, half-ass Jim. In Oregon, people were assessed the mileage tax at the pump *in lieu of* the state gasoline tax. The Massachusetts proposal is to potentially use this program in lieu of both the gas tax and highway toll booths (of which there are many in MA...I remember them well.)

And this article describes the lengths the state went to in order to avoid any possibility of tracking an individual vehicle's movements using the satellite:

I don't know that it's the right idea and I think you'd need to be really careful about the ways in which the program could be misused (law enforcement wanting to get their hands on the records springs to mind), but I think perhaps we should carefully consider the pros and cons of the actual proposal rather than just reacting knee-jerk to the incomplete and skewed snippet of information Jim provided.

griftdrift said...

You want to be careful? Here's the best way to be careful. Don't do it.

Sara said...

So you would prefer that Patrick raise the state gas tax by 27% and put new tollbooths all over the state? Because that's the alternative proposal to deal with the state's transportation cost shortfall.

Again, I'm not saying this proposal is necessarily a good idea. I could probably make the argument that it is actually a terrible idea. There are already way too many ways (that most people don't even realize) in which to track someone's movements, and we don't need more. But, in times like this, I prefer not to reflexively reject proposed alternatives without even bothering to explore the particulars.

Also, thanks to consumer GPS units, the technology may already be there for my movements or your movements to be tracked in a much more detailed fashion than anything possible under the Oregon program.

griftdrift said...

Is it really either or?

If so then, yes. I'd prefer toll booths because with them I am able to choose whether I interact with the government or not.

And for the same reason there is no comparison between a private GPS unit and a government implant. I can choose whether or not to drive my car with a Magellan or Tom Tom GPS turned on. I can't make that same choice with a GPS chip embedded in the inspection sticker.

Sara said...

According to what I've read, they are talking about these options because of a severe transportation budget shortfall. So the money has to be raised somewhere, or the roads will go to shambles.

I know Massachusetts, so I think it's a pretty safe bet they will end up with the tax hike. People there are pretty used to it and have the attitude that they'd rather pay more than ever lose their precious services. In fact, Patrick may have floated this mileage tracker idea precisely because it would make a 27% hike in the gas tax seem more attractive in comparison.

Also, in much of Massachusetts you would still have a choice. Take public transportation, no need for the inspection sticker or the tracky tracky chip. Probably cheaper too. That's one wrinkle in the question of whether it's politically palatable up there--a hefty percentage of Massachusetts residents do not own a car. Why would they care about whether the car owners' mileage is tracked and taxed? They probably would welcome disincentives to own a vehicle.

It's a wacky state.

griftdrift said...

And people say Republicans try to use the government to manage behavior...

Sara said...

They are practically communists up there, what did you expect?

I felt like a damn conservative during my 8 years up there. It made me feel icky.

Unknown said...

I'm with Grift, you can't abuse chips that don't exist

I won't even address the unbelievable waste in Massachusetts DOT. Of course their reaction is to raise taxes, that is why they are called "Taxachusetts". They can't possible do anything differently, they can ONLY raise taxes.

I am pretty certain that you can't track a person with their GPS unit. They are receivers and are not linked to any system. The GPS's in Oregon were specially designed to integrate into the toll system.

Cell phones are another story.

You can track a car with a cell phone and it isn't a "24" fantasy.

Ever seen those nifty color coded traffic maps? In many cases, like on 400, GDOT equipment "reads" a cell phone in a car and then estimates road speed by "reading" the presence of that cell phone and extrapolating traffic speed on the road. The quipment doesn't know that it is Bob or Bettie's phone, just that it is that phone that passed the last checkpoint x mins and x seconds ago.

Now there is even a Google service that allows you to track a cell phone 24/7 for no charge.

Google -

Traffic maps -

I have the traffic maps on my cell phone and they can be a real time saver.

Sara said...

This is one of those times that I would love to post what I know, but I can't. Must sit on hands.

TL said...

GPS trackers are probably not the way to do it, but I wholeheartedly endorse a mileage tax. In Georgia, it could easily be assessed when vehicles are brought in for annual emissions inspections. (This, of course, would mean that cars less than 3 years old would need to go through the emissions inspection process.) Effective and easily implemented with existing laws (odometer tampering is a felony) and structures

In fact, I'd do away with the ad valorem tax for yearly registration and replace it with a mileage tax. The current average ad valorem tax would give a driver 10,000 miles/per year, with each additional mile taxed at an additional amount.

Unknown said...

But Grift, seriously?

"If so then, yes. I'd prefer toll booths because with them I am able to choose whether I interact with the government or not."

Every time you drive on a road you are interacting with government...unless you have access to some super secret network of privately built roadways (please, hook a brother up).

The core question is how to best pay for road/transportation improvements? An excise tax or use tax (e.g. gas tax) has long been a preferred method because it internalizes the cost of improvements to the people who use the roads. The GPS idea is pretty wacky, and I hope that idea has a short life, but it's at least attempting to keep a use model intact. Other ideas like HOT lanes, cordon pricing, and variable tolls can do the same thing without all the Big Brother worries.

Instead of Jimmy getting all worried about Mass. maybe he'd be interested in taking a look at our fubar'd system in Georgia. Policy makers here have decided to fund road improvements by adding a penny to the cost of a Snickers bar.

griftdrift said...

Perhaps I should have said it allows me to choose how I interact with the government.

Jon, I have no problem with toll booths (and to a lesser degree the gas tax and ad valorem tax) for exactly the reasons you state. Snickers bar - that's a good one.

The government mandating a chip which however passively knows where I am? No. Not at all.

Blackjackk said...

Ahh... those with the most to hide don't want to be tracked.

What are you worried about anyway Grift? The gubbermint will get tired of tracking you to and from the same bar anyway.

griftdrift said...

"First, there's a huge difference between being arrested and being guilty. Second, see, the law changes and I don't. How I stand vis-à-vis the law at any given moment depends on the law. The law can change from state to state, from nation to nation, from city to city. I guess I have to go by a higher law. How's that? Yeah, I consider myself a road man for the lords of karma" ~HST

Sara said...

I agree with Jon, which is why I didn't want to see this idea completely dismissed out of hand without first discussing any potential merit that could be taken from it. Toll booths and gas taxes are both undesirable ways to try and impose a use tax. But if I live one exit up 400 why should my use be taxed the same 2 tolls every day as a guy who commutes from Dahlonega and back? If I only use gas to power my lawnmower, generator or boat, why should I be penalized with paying for the cost of transportation infrastructure? If I drive an electric car, why should I not have to share any of the cost of building and maintaining all those roads? In that sense, a mileage-based fee makes more sense and seems fairer. I think there are ways to do it without installing GPS or tracking where and when a taxpayer is driving, certainly, but if you want to make sure the mileage being assessed is all being driven in Georgia then it becomes a little more difficult. That's why Oregon used the GPS--because they only wanted people to pay for miles driven in the state itself.

I just don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, because there might be some merit buried deep within this crazy-sounding idea.

griftdrift said...

Merit has to be weighed against consquences.

This idea is impractical, bad politics and by its very nature creepy.

I could make a snarky remark here about Democrats and taxes. But I'm going to hold off.

For the moment.

Icarus said...

As someone who "leans Republican" (and who Gray and a few others refer to as a right-wing nut job), I'd like to point out that I'm for raising gas taxes.

They serve as a close approximation to a user fee, and can serve to help capture the negative externalities in the form of what we give up with respect to National Security by importing 70% of our oil.

You drive a fuel efficient car, you pay less. You drive a SUV with flat tires, you pay more.

Toll booths are close to user fees, but they don't have the convenience of paying at the pump (extra stop or cruise card hassles), nor the benefit of charging those who use gas less efficiently more for the same miles traveled.

The GPS/RFID crap is Orwellian, and needs to be stopped. Now.

Seriously, cut that crap out.

Unknown said...

Sara - don't sit on your hands. Log in anonomously and post what you know. I'm dying here :-)

Unknown said...

Mileage based - take the odometer readings from your car at your annual emmissions inspection and send a bill. No fancy contraptions needed (Grandpa lingo intended).

Of course, then we have to add emissions testing to every county and no exemptions....

oh great I am advocating run away giovernmetn aaarrrrgggh!!

I guess it is completely out of the question to actually live on a budget like all the citizens from whom those vampires they keep sucking taxes.

Unknown said...

The best I can tell, Mass. state taxes on gasoline are less than they are in Georgia. 23.5 cents per gallon in Mass, so a 27% increase would raise the state tax to 29.9 cents per gal.
Seems like a lot, but it would only mean about $38 a year increase for me.

Sara said...

Don't look now, but a "blue ribbon panel" of transportation experts are expected to recommend a nationwide rollout of a program similar to the Oregon program sometime soon.


If you could take the GPS part out of it entirely, would you think this is a better option than the current gasoline tax and state highway tolls? I.e., if it would eliminate the gas tax and tolls, would you find a mileage tax preferable?

Unknown said...

If there is no tracking of the vehicle, it helps me to think it is okay. Miles driven are acceptable, where/when those miles were driven is not.

I haven't thought about it before, but my gut reactions are;
- pols rarely change tax policy to make the taxes more fair, they change it to raise taxes
- taxing miles driven reduces the benefit of driving a more fuel efficient car
- Taking thirty to fifty cents from the cost of a gallon of gas may encourage consumption
- under certain circumstances I could drive the vehicle I prefer, rather than a Civic

More details and more thought may change my initial reactions

Unknown said...

Obama says the mileage tax is not and will not be part of his administration.

One reason cited was that SUV's and hybrids would be taxed equally.

The problem is similar to our water rate4s in ATL. We use less, which reduces revenues, so they just charge us more. People are drvin more efficient vehicles and driving less, so their is a tax revenue shortfall.

A quarter cent /nmile charge wouldn't replace the fuel tax charge in my case, so I (and many others) would actually save money, especially any form of transport trucker. Oh well, maybe that's why they killed it.

Damned if you do, damend if you don't, either way the govt will extract it's pound of flesh.

I actually laughed out loud at the privacy response at the end fo the story. Is he a fool or does he think we are fools?