Saturday, October 18, 2008

Why I'm voting against Measure Z

For those of you who just crawled out from under a log, Measure Z is the proposed half-cent sales tax increase to pay for roads, plus a few bus routes, in Monterey County. While there may be some good reasons to support it, I'm not jumping on the pro-Z bandwagon for three reasons.

First, Measure Z is not the original version of the proposal as envisioned by the Transportation Agency for Monterey County. The original plan included a small percentage for much needed intercity passenger rail projects which have already been delayed several years for lack of funds.

Unfortunately, county agriculture and tourism interests, the two largest industries in the county, said they wouldn't support the tax increase if rail was included. They didn't feel rail would do anything for them. TAMC caved in and now the measure is primarily directed towards roads. Big business has no business dictating transportation policy for the rest of us.

Second, roads have traditionally been funded with fuel taxes. It is the fairest method of funding roads because those who drive more pay more. Those who use larger vehicles, which put more wear and tear on roads than smaller vehicles, also buy more gas and thus pay more fuel taxes for road upkeep.

Unfortunately, state and federal fuel taxes have remained at 18 cents per gallon each since the mid '90s. With inflation they have lost a third of their value since that time. Measure Z wouldn't even be needed if it weren't for cowardly politicians who refuse to raise the gasoline taxes because, well, it's a tax and politicians hate tax increases. They also hate subsidies, but they hate tax increases more. The net effect of Measure Z is that shoppers are being asked to subsidize drivers.

Third, Pacific Grove and Seaside voters (not me!) approved a one-cent sales tax increase already this year. If Measure Z passes, sales taxes in these two towns will grow to a whopping 8.75%! In most states the sales tax is a more modest 4-6%.

I'm not going to tell you how to vote here. There are some good arguments in favor of Measure Z. But in my not so humble opinion, if we're going to ask shoppers to subsidize roads, we should also be allowed to subsidize alternatives to pavement, like rail, which is much, much more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Otherwise, let motorists pay their own way at the pump, in direct proportion to their driving habits, instead of at the department store.

For some background information, see my earlier entry They Should Like Trains.


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