A new way to vacuum from our wallets

Over the years from time to time I have written about the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate compact ostensibly to address climate change (under the mistaken belief mankind can significantly affect that natural phenomenon) but one which in reality acts as a wealth redistributor in most of its member states.

But thanks to the sharp-eyed folks at the Delaware Freedom Coalition – who noticed a small article in one of the New Jersey Patch websites (they’re still around?) – we now know that these same states and three others (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia) are trying to do the same thing with your gasoline. In the words of the Connecticut-based Hartford Courant, which is linked in the Patch article:

The concept calls for a regional cap-and-trade plan that would raise money that would be used to combat climate change at a time when President Donald Trump’s administration is seeking to weaken standards for automobile emissions. For example, the money would help in improving electric-car charging and investing in mass transit as ways to reduce emissions.

“Connecticut among states studying regional gas tax,” Christopher Keating, Hartford Courant, October 25, 2019.

[In an unrelated move, Delaware Rep. Krista Griffith already proposed a measure this year to allow the public usage of state-owned electric car charging stations, a bill that fell one Senate vote short of passage (two Senators were absent at the time of the vote.) That’s certain to come back in 2020, but the proceeds from this proposed gas tax could be earmarked to reimburse state agencies for a similar public use.]

However, this wouldn’t be a per-gallon tax or a sales tax on gasoline, the methods by which most of us pay our automotive toll to the state. Instead, it appears (according to published reports here and here) that the toll would be paid at the wholesale level, which has led that industry to oppose the new tax. If it were adopted, though, they have suggested some improvements. Otherwise, much like RGGI member state utilities are saddled with the additional cost and red tape of compliance, the petroleum industry will become the new whipping boy for Radical Green.

This is just another case of passing the buck. And as Forbes contributor David Blackmon opines, “we see states like these twelve spending tens of millions of dollars and years upon years studying and developing deceptive approaches like this in order to give governors and other politicians the political cover they need to still be re-elected after voting the new, hidden tax into law.” Now in states like Maryland and (unfortunately) Delaware, there are enough people who have been fooled to keep voting in these people regardless of what they do or “accomplish” in office on so-called climate change. But the concept could fall apart if enough states balk at the idea, and public comment has been surprisingly fierce against the idea once people are made aware of it. (Apparently people in Maine are since that small state provides the majority of public comments.)

If people wish to purchase electric cars, part of the consideration has to be the infrastructure (or lack thereof) for refueling as well as other needs. Setting aside the environmental impact that these expanded batteries create and the subsidies required to make the industry successful – never mind this proposed carveout – the other issue is that an electric car simply replaces a conventional car on roads which must be maintained on a system of highways desperately needing expansion and streamlining in some places. Here in Sussex County that covers everything from local needs like a bridge crossing of the Nanticoke River between Sharptown and Seaford to replace the old and unreliable Woodland Ferry and a combined U.S. 113/State Route 24 Millsboro bypass to regional concerns like the extension of an interstate-grade highway from south of Dover to Salisbury along the U.S. 13 corridor. (Since it wouldn’t be a loop highway, call it I-195.)

One advantage of a gas tax is that, when it’s properly allocated toward highway maintenance and expansion – and not toward bike paths, mass transit subsidies, or the yawning chasm of a state’s general fund – it serves as a user fee not unlike that of crossing the Bay Bridge or a toll road. You pay your fee, you get your service whether it’s traversing Chesapeake Bay or avoiding umpteen traffic lights and speed limit changes between Dover and Wilmington. Unfortunately, too many governmental entitles see these taxes as revenue they can spend as they please whether it’s in the spirit in which the tax is collected or not. Moreover, undefined revenue becomes yet another method of patching holes in the budget, and yes I’m looking at you Martin O’Malley.

So it’s prudent to be skeptical at best about the collection and usage of this tax, especially since the participants misunderstand the problem and try to avoid dealing with the real issues. If you want to raise the gas tax, be honest about it and use it to fix roads, not address an issue the world can’t solve.

Is this part of PlanDelaware?

While I don’t often discuss the First State on this forum, I was alerted to an important piece of upcoming regulation which may affect those who decide to flee high-tax Maryland for the greener pastures of Delaware. In looking at these proposed changes, I’m beginning to wonder if those who live in the less-densely populated portions of our neighbor to the north are enduring a “War on Rural Delaware.” Granted, Delaware is a far smaller state in population than Maryland is, but they are similar in the fact that a small number of counties, in their case just one, tend to dictate the entirety of state government.

These are the proposed septic regulations (ignore the first portion being replaced) and as I read them they seem like a full employment act for politically connected inspectors. For example, have you ever heard of having to have your system inspected every six months? Me neither, but it’s in the regulations as are other provisions pointed out by the 9/12 Delaware Patriots. Other scary clauses give the government full say as to whether you can sell your house and the right to inspect at a moment’s notice.

But you can get a waiver – if you promise in perpetuity not to subdivide into plots less than ten acres. That’s not adding much in the way of land value.

As written currently, these regulations only cover certain regions, but just like in Maryland those in Delaware should look for continuing efforts to bring more and more areas under the jurisdiction of these rules. We’ve played that game in Maryland with the protected areas around waterways in the Chesapeake Bay watershed expanding farther and farther away from their shores.

So what can be done? Well, the hour is late as this change sort of flew under the radar (as these sorts of schemes are wont to do.) The 9/12 Delaware Patriots say this:

We think you should demand a public workshop where DNREC can explain the need for these new rules and their authority to impose them.

I would go a step further and encourage conservatives in their General Assembly to take whatever steps are necessary to overturn these rules, at least the most egregious parts. It may do just as much good against Wilmington Democrats as it does here in Maryland against the I-95 corridor cabal but it may also shed some much-needed light on the process. Why is it the state’s job to stamp their blessing on the sale of my private property to a willing buyer?

So let me guess: enviroweenie Delaware liberals are going to believe I’m for dirty water? Sorry, I’m for freedom. When you can prove to me this is a significant enough problem to outweigh other documented issues with water pollution stemming from poorly-maintained urban sanitary sewer systems, then maybe we’ll talk about a prudent approach. But this set of regulations is mighty far from a prudent approach.