John Campbell wants you to pay to drive by the mile!

John Campbell image superimposed on cracked asphant

Something around here is DEFINITELY cracked!

This … is … weird.  KPCC reports:

Traditionally, bridge repair and highway construction is funded by a tax at the gasoline pump, but Republican Congressman John Campbell says that funding source is shrinking as cars get more fuel efficient.

“Revenue coming in via the gas tax is dropping,” he says, because people are using fewer gallons of gas. “The tax is on the gallon of gas. It’s not on the price, it’s not a percent of the price, like most other taxes.” …

Campbell, who’s owned several car dealerships, proposes a user fee, charging drivers per mile driven. That proposal is not included in the multi-year highway bills under consideration.

My general assumption about things like this is that a Republican Congressmember’s proposals will be designed to reduce what businesses have to pay and increase what individuals have to pay.  In this case, there may be an angle to his cunning plan that helps car dealers at the expense of the rest of us, but I don’t see it right off.  Two other things do strike me, though:

(1) People already do “pay the the mile.”  They do it via the part of fuel expenditures that are not taxes, but the rest of the bill.  You know — more gallons, more money.  I’m sorry if improved fuel efficiency creates a problem for Rep. Campbell, but it’s a good thing in other ways — such as serving national security and the environment.  Inducing people (especially those with low mileage vehicles) to drive less would have some advantages in further lowering demand, but doing it while cutting back on public transportation is just cruel and pointless.  And the hardship would fall largely onto the backs of the poor and working class.  If we want people not to drive — as Campbell, presumably, doesn’t — then make sure that there are buses to get them around our not-really-all-that-small county.

(2) So this is about road and bridge repair, is it?  Here, let me ask you a riddle: if Road A has 17 Mini-Coopers driving along it, and Road B has one average loaded tractor-trailer, which road gets more damage?

Well, for one thing, I chose the number 17 because a loaded tractor-trailer (at about 22 tons) is about 17 times the weight of a Mini-Cooper (at 1.3 tons.)  But if you think that that means the amount of road and bridge damage is the same because the total weight is the same, you’re mistaken.  Road damage comes from peak weight.  Each of the 18 tires of the trailer-trailer is putting as much pressure on the road as all four tires of the Mini-Cooper.  The occasional even-more-laden truck is going to do even more damage.

So what Campbell proposes is that the Mini-Coopers be taxed 17 times as much as the truck when the truck is the one doing virtually all of the damage to infrastructure.

Now I have to ask: which is used in commerce, Mini-Coopers or tractor-trailers?  The latter.  So, Campbell’s tax would be a massive redistribution of wealth from average citizens to the industries that need, hire, and drive trucks.  A hike in the gas tax, by contrast, would disproportionately affect cars with worse mileage.

Now, let me see: what was my prediction?  Oh yeah, that once it was understood, Campbell’s tax would help industry by making everyone else pay for it.  Right! It’s nice that there are some things in life one can count on!


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)