Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Defining Sin Down

I’d think it was an April fools joke were it not the middle of May, from Opinion Journal:
As gas prices continue to top $2 a gallon, all those drivers of fuel-efficient cars may not have reason to gloat for much longer. Oregon is worried that too many Honda Insights and Toyota Priuses hitting the roads will rob it of the cash it expects out of its 24-cent-a-gallon tax. So the Beaver State is studying ways to ensure that "hybrid" car owners pay their "fair share" of taxes for the miles they drive. That means allowing the taxman to catch up to hybrid owners just as often as he catches up to gas guzzling SUV drivers. And if Oregon goes ahead, it won't be long before other states follow.

Oregon won't complete its study until 2007. But it's already clear the state is looking to influence behavior in addition to raising revenue by implementing a "vehicle mileage tax." Under a VMT a motorist would pay a tax for each mile driven, probably around 1.25 cents. To administer this tax, a global positioning system would be mounted in each car. As a driver fuels up, the device would relay mileage information to the gas pump, which would calculate the VMT. A simple electronic odometer-reading device would do the trick, but Oregon is looking at GPS devices because they would also allow for charging higher VMT rates for miles driven in "congested" areas during rush hour or to exempt miles driven out of state.
Being a pain in the ass concerned friend, I hurriedly forwarded this over to my buddy that owns a hybrid. He quickly (and correctly) pointed out:
I mean, gasoline taxes have always been sort of a fringe version of the "sin tax" wherein we tax those who indulge in some "undesirable", but otherwise legal, activity. So, if we follow Oregon's reasoning, we shouldn't have any trouble taxing people who don't smoke for the cigarettes that they aren't smoking, and thus are not paying tax- stamp taxes on. And, let's not forget to tax those who selfishly choose not to drink alcohol for all of the alcohol stamp-taxes that they escape through their irresponsible temperance.
One has to wonder to what extent 'sin taxes' were never about sin in as much as they were about a majority passing a tax that they wouldn't have to pay (but for small amounts). Since taxes stunt whatever is being taxed, and egregious 'sin taxes' suppress revenue in what is seen as a social ill; then what happens when the dream comes true and the 'sin' goes into remission? Why it's time to find a new sin. No doubt eventually we'll all have to wear GPS devices so that we can be taxed when we loiter or jaywalk.

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