Washington State’s Money Grab – Oops, Fuel Economy Tax
By Chris Haak
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported today on a proposal in the Washington state senate to impose an excise tax on all passenger vehicles based on EPA fuel efficiency ratings. Senate Bill 6923 has the support of both Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and Sen. Ed Murray (D-Seattle). Examples of the fees range from a Toyota Prius being assessed $60 annually and a Hummer H3 being assessed $180 annually.
Supporters of the bill claim that “the biggest global warming problem in this state is actually from transportation.”
However, the next paragraph is telling when one is searching for the true motivation behind this bill. It turns out that “rising fuel costs have lured drivers from their cars while the increased popularity of gas-efficient vehicles has cut back on the number of trips drivers make to the pumps.”
Thankfully, I do not live in Washington, so this will not affect me directly, but I do have a problem with this proposal on several levels. Foremost, it’s so obviously a money grab and not out of concern for the environment. The problem, as outlined in the previous paragraph, is that motorists in Washington are using too little fuel, causing gas tax receipts to fall. So basically, high gas prices are doing their job of discouraging consumption and encouraging more fuel efficient vehicle sales. The only problem is, that positive trend cuts into the state’s revenue stream. But make no mistake, there already is a tax based on fuel economy in Washington and most other places – it’s called a gas tax. Use more, and you pay more tax. But with this proposal, use less, pay a new tax.
Second, there’s a logical disconnect when they say their state’s biggest global warming problem is transportation. While I do believe we are experiencing global climate change, most likely caused by human activities over the past century, I do not believe that Washington’s problem is global warming. The skies over Olympia won’t be a few degrees cooler if Washington emits less CO2.
Third, a tax that penalizes less efficient vehicles tends to harm lower income individuals more directly, who do not have the ability to trade in their 1982 Caprice Classic for a new Honda Fit. Therefore, they are harmed more than someone who can afford to choose a more economical modern car. These folks are already disproportionately harmed by high fuel prices and gas taxes.
Lastly, commercial drivers would be exempt from this legislation. So the guy who, say, owns a landscaping company and drives a three ton F-350 crew cab as his daily commute, but never fills the pickup bed, is exempt from a tax like this? If the bill became law and this provision stuck, I predict a sudden boom in “self employed” individuals in Washington, claiming that they need their vehicles for business purposes to avoid paying the extra fees.
I hope for the sake of Washington’s residents – and for the rest of the country, if their legislators get word of this “bright idea” – that this proposal falls flat on its face, and quickly. Want to tax gasoline? Fine. But don’t talk about climate change when high gas prices are already driving the desired behavior.
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