By Ross Sevy
A 1964 Presidential campaign ad began with a young boy riding his bike down his driveway then shooting a basketball while a voiceover states, “don’t look now young man but somebody has his hand in your pocket. It’s the hand of Big Government. It’s taking away about four months’ pay from what your daddy earns every year.” The ad was by Senator Barry Goldwater, and it was referencing Tax Freedom Day. Tax Freedom Day is the day the Tax Foundation calculates that Americans have earned enough to pay their taxes and start earning for themselves. In 1964 that day was April 9. In 2016 Tax Freedom Day falls on April 24 nationally, but here in California it falls almost a week later on April 30.
That means Californians are spending one third of the year working for the government, instead of investing in their families and businesses. In fact, the Tax Foundation has calculated that Americans will spend more on taxes than on food, clothing and housing combined in 2016. And yet, here in California, we are being told almost daily that the government needs further tax increases to fund a variety of issues ranging from education to transportation. However, this Tax Freedom Day one tax is being proposed that should truly startle you, the “vehicle mileage tax.”
The vehicle mileage tax would be a tax placed on every mile Californians drive on state or local roadways. While this tax would disproportionately impact commuters and rural communities, the more frightening thing is how it would be implemented. One suggested way to assess the tax, and no this is not from an Orwellian novel, would be to place a GPS tracker in every Californians car. The GPS tracker would be able to count the miles driven on state and local roads so that the Franchise Tax Board could accurately calculate every drivers tax debt. Aside from potentially violating your 4th Amendment Rights, does anybody want the government tracking where the shop, dine, exercise, or spend their free time? And do they trust that the Franchise Tax Board will monitor the driving habits of millions of Californians without making errors and overcharging taxpayers?
More importantly why is the vehicle mileage tax being proposed? Proponents say that due to declining gas tax revenues, in large part because more Californians are driving fuel efficient or electric cars, the state needs a new way to collect taxes to pay for transportation infrastructure. This should make taxpayers weary, government seldom willingly gives up one source of revenue for another. In addition, taxpayers should be skeptical that the state government will responsibly spend the new revenue on our roads and highways because of the state’s poor record of shifting transportation funding away from transportation purposes, or blatantly wasting our taxpayer dollars.
Evidence of this waste and misappropriation can be found by looking how the state spends vehicle weight fees and funds the California Department of Transportation. Vehicle weight fees are fees that are collected from heavy trucks whose stated intention is to offset the damage the trucks do to California’s roads. That is not the case though. The revenue from the vehicle weight fees, around $1 billion dollars annually, is currently being diverted to the general fund. Evidence of wasteful spending was pointed out by the non-partisan, non-biased Legislative Analyst’s Office, which found over 3,000 positions at the California Department of Transportation that are unnecessary, and are costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually to pay for.
The hand of big government is always reaching into the pockets of taxpayers, and looking for new ways to do it. That is why on this Tax Freedom Day the Inland Empire Taxpayers Association cautions taxpayers everywhere to guard against the vehicle mileage tax. After all, do you want to be working for the government for a third of the year and then have it riding in your passenger seat for the remainder?
Ross Sevy is President of the Inland Empire Taxpayers Association.