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Buttigieg’s Idea To Tax How Much You Drive Isn’t About Revenue, It’s About Control


President Joe Biden has proven he’s a fan of dropping taxpayer cash from helicopters. He’s also shown no signs of slowing down, with the latest push being for trillions of dollars in infrastructure spending. Transportation Secretary Buttigieg, né Mayor Pete, floated some ideas about how to raise taxes on drivers to help fund this.

In comments to CNBC, Buttigieg signaled support for moving away from consumption-based gasoline taxes to taxes based on usage. In other words, he wants to tax people for how much they drive. Doing so, he said, “[S]hows a lot of promise if we believe in that so-called user-pays principle: The idea that part of how we pay for roads is you pay based on how much you drive.”

After facing immediate backlash, Buttigieg quickly backed off the idea, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper a mileage tax is “not part of the conversation about this infrastructure bill.” But that doesn’t mean it’s not far off, and it’s worth digging into.

The biggest problem with paying per mile is that we already pay based on how much we drive. It’s a not-so-little thing called the gasoline tax, and you pay it every time you fill up. But for the big spenders around the country, particularly given how COVID has changed driving patterns, the gas tax is proving insufficient. Now, they’re looking for new ways to bring home the bacon.

While they’ll tell you it’s about potholes — and Buttigieg is certainly no stranger to potholes — it’s likely that Biden’s infrastructure proposal will contain lots of things not related to infrastructure, much like the recently-passed COVID relief bill. It’s just how they roll.

Yet it’s not how we, as Americans, should roll. Instead, we should flip the spike strip back on any technocrats attempting to foist this on us. We shouldn’t resist just because the idea would have punished drivers and car manufacturers for responding to pushes for increased fuel efficiency. It’s not just because government-funded roads are financed with theft. It’s not even because the idea of tracking us while we drive is creepy and authoritarian.

It’s Not About Revenue, It’s About Control

Okay, maybe it is mostly about that last one. But look, if the government wants to tax people who drive electric vehicles and don’t pay gas taxes, it can do that. Instead, governments give buyers tax credits then bemoan the lost revenue. If it seems like they’re trying to punish people who drive conventional cars because others responded to incentives in ways the technocrats prefer, that’s because they are.

That isn’t a compelling reason to put a GPS tracker in all of our vehicles and monitor our vehicles’ every movement. At least they could be honest about it and just track our smartphone data. Then they’d catch us in those moments when we’re a passenger in a vehicle. That’s still used, right?

We can’t have people attempting to hide their road use by carpooling or taking public transit, can we? The time for free riders is over. Pedestrians, you’re next, particularly if you’ve put on a few pounds during the pandemic.

Carphobia Is Real

Sure, that sounds ridiculous now. Just give it a few years. This isn’t really about roads or infrastructure; it’s about controlling our behavior. Average citizens are just not smart or informed enough to be trusted with freedom, so we need nerds who mostly hate cars because they’re scared of them to show us the way.

Sorry, but no. Driving is awesome. There’s something about just getting behind the wheel and going. There’s something about not having strictly planned routes and schedules imposed on your journey. There’s something about the ability to hit the road without worrying that the government may have figured out that you stopped to buy some vegetables from an unlicensed stand.

But freedom is passe these days, so we have to listen to unelected bureaucrats wax philosophical on ways to limit it, as though they haven’t done enough of that the past year.

During the early days of the pandemic, when my kids had grown restless at home, we embarked on a new path. Around 5 p.m. each night, when I could call it quits for the day, we’d get into my car. I’d crank Taylor Swift for them and then head toward the rural highways close to our house. They’d jam to “22,” I’d jam to carving through corners.

It wasn’t exactly a revival of the Sunday Drive, but it was a way to bring some normalcy to our locked down lives. As I put premium in my car, I was paying plenty of taxes toward the roads we traveled on.

Keep Your Foot Hard on That Pedal, Son

But Pothole Pete and the gang aren’t really concerned with the state of those roads. Beneath the supposed good reason they give for changing how drivers are taxed is the real reason they want the change: driving offers people too much autonomy, too much freedom. That cannot be tolerated. That’s why we need people who refuse to tolerate it.

In a different time, Burt Reynolds was lauded for his performance in “Smokey and the Bandit,” a noble tale of a bootlegger running cases of Coors from Texarkana to Atlanta while constantly working to evade Sheriff Justice, the dogged cop played by Jackie Gleason. In one scene, after Justice and his son are run off the road, the sheriff says, “What we’re dealing with here is a complete lack of respect for the law.”

What we as Americans need to deal with, as technocrats attempt to increase how much they rule every aspect of our lives, is that we should make them say the same about us. We may not be ferrying a load of illicit Coors to a wedding, but we can still crank up “East Bound and Down,” hit the gas, and remember that freedom is out there and that we don’t need a digital Sheriff Justice plugged into our dashboards while we pursue it.