Fighting ‘behavior modification’

Fortunately, we are about five months (and one election) away from the “90 days of terror” which comprises a regular session of the Maryland General Assembly. We have no idea yet just who will be representing us in Annapolis, but there is one agenda item a familiar group is out to stop in its tracks.

As Bob Willick of Maryland Liberty PAC puts it:

Maryland Liberty PAC is ramping up efforts to drive a stake in the heart of the proposed VMT tax before it gains any more traction.

Their aim is to pass a bill prohibiting the practice, similar to one which was introduced last year but went nowhere. In that effort, they have compiled a half-page flyer and video describing their reasons for concern.

Aside from blaming a few current and former legislators for their votes on the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act of 2009 – indeed, a poor vote but just one – the video does a nice job of illustrating what the bureaucrats of the state have wrought and why it should be stopped.

But let’s leave aside the peak-hour tolls and tracking just for a moment and look at the impact a simple VMT might have.

Let’s say you work here in Salisbury but choose to live in a rural part of Wicomico County, such as around Tyaskin or Powellville. Every day you may drive 20 to 30 miles round trip to work, plus there are those 15 to 20 mile round trips for grocery shopping, taking the kids for extracurricular activities, and the like. It would be easy to put 20,000 to 25,000 miles annually on your car and if a VMT is set for every mile above some artificial limit such as 10,000 miles it could run into several hundred dollars a year, almost regardless of what kind of car you own. (Chances are certain models would be exempted from a VMT, regardless of how useful they are to one’s needs.)

The VMT became seriously discussed when the effects of the fuel economy standards adopted by the federal government in the wake of the 1970s oil embargoes became painfully obvious. As cars became more efficient, they used less gasoline so a per-gallon tax became less and less lucrative. If you drive 20,000 miles a year in a car that gets 40 miles to the gallon, you’re only using 500 gallons of gas a year as opposed to a 20 MPG car that takes in 1,000 gallons. At a federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, that’s a “cost” to Uncle Sam of $92 a year for being a “good citizen” and purchasing a more efficient car. As they often say, “no good deed goes unpunished,” so with the advent of GPS tracking systems it became more possible to accurately gauge a car’s true mileage and perhaps make up all of that $92 or even more.

As I see it, though, the VMT tax is just a small part of a larger drive to decouple people from their cars. Maryland is doing little to enhance the traffic situation in parts of the state insofar as highway work is concerned. Sure, they may replace the occasional bridge or repave a perfectly good highway, but the bulk of their transportation money and effort is going to be concentrated on two boondoggles called the Red Line and Purple Line. Before that, it was the ICC toll road, which should serve as a signal for what’s to come: variable tolls based on time of day, collected by electronic means with an EZPass or – for a “service fee” – a bill sent to the car’s registered owner. I predict this same “makeover” will be on the Bay Bridge within the next decade, with sky-high tolls at rush hour and on weekends.

Obviously this process of enhancing specific, politically correct traffic is well underway – witness the HOT lanes in urban areas or proposed “transitways” for busses only. Maybe that’s great for urban dwellers, but that doesn’t help people trying to get into Ocean City or through Cambridge or Easton at the height of tourist season. Forget the logic of building another Bay Bridge connecting southern Maryland and Dorchester County to save motorists coming from the Washington area time and hassle.

There’s no question we need to invest money in our transportation infrastructure. The problem with Maryland is that it seeks to create demand where none exists and ignores logical extensions of the existing overburdened system in the name of addressing a “global warming” problem we couldn’t change if we tried.

The idea of the VMT should be the first thing scrapped, but let’s not stop there. It’s time to give up on the folly of reducing our greenhouse gas output because that equates to reducing our standard of living as well as our liberty.

By the way, since I’m on the subject of boondoggles like the Red Line, Purple Line, and VMT, I’ve been meaning to work this editorial on ethanol by my Patriot Post cohort Mark Alexander in for a few days. Here’s a good chance to read it.

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