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Clash Daily

Political Promises Have an Expiration Date

By Chuck Gruenwald

February 15, 2013 at 12:31 pm

by Charles Gruenwald

Clash Daily Guest Contributor

Recently, a transportation advisory board made several suggestions to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the State General Assembly to address a decline in tax revenue from fuel taxes. Among the suggestions were: a five cent increase in the state fuel tax, as well as a vehicle mileage tax. The mileage would be calculated with GPS locators that would be installed in privately-owned vehicles that are registered in the State of Wisconsin.

This decline in fuel tax revenue is not unique to Wisconsin, and neither are the proposed methods to make up the difference. Other states, such as Illinois and Nevada – and even the federal government -- have floated similar ideas to raise revenue.

Why is there a decline in fuel tax revenue?

One of the reasons given is the increased fuel efficiency of newer vehicles.

Why are newer vehicles more fuel-efficient?

The federal government has mandated increased fuel economy standards.

If the federal government’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE)regulations had not been implemented, it is safe to assume that market pressure would have eventually forced the car makers to increase the mileage of their vehicles. However, since the CAFE regulations are the brainchild of Washington, the government has only itself to blame for this decline in gas tax revenue.

Somehow, it is difficult to find sympathy for politicians and bureaucrats, whose attempt to fix one problem ends up creating an entirely new problem, or set of problems.

Of course, gas taxes have been increased before. In fact, Wisconsin’s gas tax used to automatically increase on April First of every year – unless the General Assembly voted against it.

A mileage tax, however, would raise questions about privacy, since mileage would most likely be calculated with the use of GPS transponders that are installed in privately-owned vehicles.

When questioned about the use of GPS, politicians claim that it would not be used to track the locations of individuals – only the miles that their vehicles are driven.

Unfortunately, when it comes to promises, politicians have a poor history of keeping their word.

After enacting a mandatory seat belt law for drivers and front seat passengers in Illinois, the politicians who voted for that law claimed that seat belt violations would not be a primary reason to pull a vehicle over, nor would the seat belt law ever extend to adult back seat passengers. However, it had taken just under thirty years for those promises to be broken. Will the promises made in regard to GPS tracking be any different?

When defending unpopular bills or laws, politicians have a tendency to promise that the power of that law in question will not be extended beyond its proposed reach. What those politicians will not say, is that future lawmakers are not bound by the promises made by their predecessors; look no further than the promises made by Congressmen to lower spending levels at a later date – by members of Congress who have yet to be elected, in exchange for tax increases that would take effect as soon as possible.

If a politician or bureaucrat claims that a proposed law or regulation will not become the legal nightmare that its critics claim, ask yourself if that law establishes the groundwork necessary to become something bigger; a GPS locator that is installed in your vehicle today, has the potential to track your car’s movements tomorrow.

Two of the issues which will cause politicians to break their privacy promise regarding the use of GPS – if it is ever instituted – are the use of vehicles that rarely leave private property, such as security or farm vehicles, and vehicles that are used for charity work, such as Meals on Wheels.

If a security vehicle for a shopping mall, office complex, or stadium travels one-hundred miles per day on private property, but only four or five miles on a public roadway, who is responsible for validating the public vs. private mileage? The obvious answer that will be given by politicians and bureaucrats is that in order to fairly separate the public and private mileage, GPS will have to track that vehicle’s location.

As for individuals who donate their time and gas money for charity work, how many people will continue to do so if their acts of kindness are now taxed? Will volunteers have to submit pre-planned routes to a bureaucrat? Or, will those good Samaritans have to submit to having their whereabouts tracked?

Yes, these scenarios may appear far-fetched, but the US had faced even more restrictive travel regulations in the not-too-distant past.

In the early nineties, the EPA had proposed extreme regulations in the name of clean air, such as mandatory carpooling for companies with over fifty employees, driving restrictions during certain times, mandatory emissions tests in “high pollution” areas, and the mandatory scrapping of vehicles that were older than five years. In preparation of these mandates becoming reality, the Village of Arlington Heights, Il. created a pilot carpooling program for village employees. However, thanks in large part to a huge public backlash, and the Republican majorities in Congress that were elected in 1994, the EPA backed down on most of these proposals -- the mandatory emissions tests, unfortunately, are now reality.

As for the tax hikes that were suggested in Wisconsin, Governor Walker and the Republican-controlled General Assembly quickly dismissed them. But, the fact that these proposals were actually submitted for approval at all should serve as a warning that just because a proposed law or regulation wasn’t approved today, doesn’t mean that it is history.

Born in Chicago and raised in northwest suburban Cook County, Chuck Gruenwald developed an unfavorable opinion of machine politics quite early in life. In addition to cars, electronics, law enforcement, and politics, Chuck enjoys writing, and is also a horse racing fan. He has recently written op-eds for