Thursday, July 23, 2009

$eeking A Green Funding Scheme

Congress is looking hard for a funding source for all things transportation. With the gas tax woefully inadequate, they are looking for other sources. One that continues to come up is the VMT tax. While this is a promising idea, no one likes to think further or beyond the box. I was actually surprised when people immediately let an idea like DeFazio's oil futures tax even sit for a while. But for the most part, congress is boring. It's like people are stuck going in circles.

But in the Streetsblog article there are some ideas that have floated before, in other forms that might be a bit innovative. For example the tax break idea has been floated before and discussed here, albeit for a somewhat different cause. Alan Drake has been proposing for a long time that we use property tax breaks to electrify the main freight lines across the country. This is just an addition.
Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL) touted his bill to provide tax credits for companies that build new freight tracks or terminals. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) suggested levying a freight fee of 0.075 percent per shipment, with a maximum of $500, on goods that arrive at the nation's ports.
But what about other ways to find funding for transport. Are there any other innovative mechanisms for a national scale? The Transport Politic says we should take it from the general fund. How about if we can carve out some of the income tax for transportation. Perhaps you can see how much you're paying into it on your weekly statement, kind of like FICA. Especially since everyone uses transportation to get to work where they get income. And if they don't, they are living at home and should get a break for that.

Or one of my favorite ideas is an electric bill surcharge, perhaps one for commercial electricity and one for residential. This might accomplish two goals, one being a reduction in energy usage from higher price points and another being when more electric automobiles and other vehicles start coming, they will be paying into the transportation fund. Obviously not completely thought out, but there's something in there somewhere.

I really wish we could throw all kinds of crazy ideas on the table and see what might stick. Any other ideas out there we should know about?


Winston said...

I really, really don't think that you want people to see how much they're paying to support public transit on their pay stubs.

The reason is that only a tiny fraction of the population uses public transit and most of those people are poor. Such a line item on paychecks can only serve to breed resentment and cause people to demand that such a line item be reduced to zero.

The fairest way to fund transit would seem to be property assessments as places that are accessible by public transit presumably are more valuable than those that aren't. A small portion of the gasoline tax as well as tolls on roads that parallel good transit (such as the Bay Bridge) might also be reasonable.

Philosophically, the method of funding transit that is most popular in California - the transit sales tax is the method that I like least because as a tax it is the one that is least related to the benefits of a good transit network.

I also should point out that were carbon emissions much more expensive than transit would come much closer to being self-supporting.

As for road taxation, I like the gas tax. It's roughly proportional to the amount of road you use and to the amount of pollution you emit. It is also cheap and easy to collect and nearly universally complied with. Just raise the gas tax and poof, your road funding problem is solved.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Oops I changed transit in that first sentence to transport. I was talking about transport in general, not just transit. Though if we could find a funding source for transit itself that was separate that would be great. You're right though, a paystub look at how much people were paying for transit would anger them if they didn't have access or they didn't use it and thought it was leaching.