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California's Tax Man Eyes a New Tool: A GPS Tracker on Your Car

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GPS tax information
Here's a news item that's guaranteed to inflame both the privacy activists and "taxophobes" alike: In California, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has just approved a new study aimed at raising funds for road maintenance and public transit.

Sound innocuous? It's not. When a government agency talks about "raising money," that's almost always code for "raising taxes" -- and the new "Vehicle Miles Traveled" program is no exception.

At its heart, VMT aims to use GPS technology to track the distances drivers travel by car in the nine counties surrounding San Francisco Bay. Data from the survey would then be used to, for example, plot repairs of existing roadways, decide where to lay new asphalt, and, crucially, begin taxing road warriors based on the distances they drive.

Of course, all of this depends on GPS technology. So what if you don't currently have GPS in your car? No problem, says Frisco; they'll require you to install a "GPS-like odometer" in your car. Then, based on its readout, you can look forward to paying a road-usage fee of up to $0.10 per mile driven.

Is it fair to raise the taxes of those who drive more miles per year?
Those who drive more should shoulder more of the transportation costs.32 (12.6%)
Those who drive more often make less money. I'm not sure if this is a solution.30 (11.9%)
No. Miles driven does not fully reflect the cost of road wear and tear.191 (75.5%)
It's Not Where You Go; It's How Far You Go

Now, before you start looking over your shoulder for the black helicopters monitoring your every move, MTC officials rush to reassure: "The last thing we're interested in is where you go and what you do."

In a rare outburst of candor, the government says all it really wants to do is "figure out a way to raise revenue." If the plan is implemented, the MTC could charge drivers as much as $15 million a day. (Hopefully, not per capita).

No Need to Call Big Brother to Collect

California's candor is laudable, but it doesn't quite ring true. After all, there are any number of other ways to raise revenue and ding drivers for excessive road use with less intrusion into personal privacy. Red light cameras and toll lanes, for example, fit the bill, and give the state insight into where driving is heaviest without requiring drivers to have an electronic auditor riding shotgun.

The most obvious solution -- hiking the gasoline tax -- could cut down on driving, discourage the use of gas-hogging SUVs, and promote usage of California's already substantial investments in alternative electric power production for plug-in hybrids.

Of course, then they'd have to admit to raising taxes and not just "revenue."



Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith holds no position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple and Google and creating a bull call spread position in Apple.

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22 Comments

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pearlolds

Not a surprise. The socialist wackos that run that area will tax anything and the people there let them. Some of them love it. Let them wallow in their own mud hole they have created.

August 14 2012 at 5:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
lynniemiller

Intrusive

Continue the luxury tax on luxury vehicles and jewelry

July 29 2012 at 2:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
domegrp

They will tax anything and everything to keep from reducing spending. Give them a resounding NO to more taxes.

July 28 2012 at 4:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
vwcox99

thats why i don't live in cal the far left state

July 27 2012 at 1:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
stevacme

As a hybrid driver considering an all-electric I think this idea may have merit. How is the state supposed to recoup the appropriate amount from me for road maintenence, etc. if I do not buy gas or if I buy far less gas in comparison with the owners of vehicles that create similar levels of roadwear, etc? When everyone drove a car that got about 10 mpg the gas tax was a reasonably accurate gauge of driving behavior. Now it is not. This proposal may not be perfect but the concept will obviously become relevant to any future that includes a wide variety of energy sources for transportation

July 25 2012 at 4:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
JonesEngineering

Not a good idea. There are other means for determining that such as roadway monitors that count traffic

July 25 2012 at 12:25 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
legalcld

First CA and then the rest of the country! Especially if obama gets a 2nd term!

July 25 2012 at 11:23 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to legalcld's comment
Goodie

What is the connection to the President? The article said California tax man not the President of the United States.

July 25 2012 at 11:45 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
thegebos

With Cal Cities going bankrupt the states answer is not to cut spending but to raise taxes. Gov Moonbeam can watch his citizens fleeing to Arizona and Texas on his GPS monitor.

July 25 2012 at 5:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Scott Peterson

How exactly is my 4 tire 3000 lb. car "damaging" the roadways? How's about only taxing those loaded up 80,000 lb. 18+ tire tractor trailers (oh no, we can't do that, that would unfairly burden truckers and just add to the cost of shipping goods...I'm welling up). Or better yet since roads are supposed to be conduits of the economy, how's about charging the Wal-mart's of the world the extra taxes to fix the roads so we, the consumer, can have the privelege of buying their useless goods??? While we're at it, tax my employer, since without roads I couldn't get to work...

July 25 2012 at 10:51 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Scott Peterson's comment
STEVE

PLEASE reread your post and realize you sound like an idiot. Right now 60 cents goes for fuel; 11-13 cents for maint.; 5 cents for unexpected emergencies; 3 cents for tolls on average. 32-44 cents for driver pay; 20-24 cents for insurance. So that roughly $1.40 average per mile the truck cost.thats a min. Hey if your not welling up to much yet as you put it how about $10 for a gallon of milk--$10 for gallon of gas---$25 for a six pack of beer. I bet you wouldn't like that. Its ALL relative except the truckers will not get a dime to help them out it NEVER trickles down. before your blow off your mouth do some research go to the local truck stop and LISTERN don't talk

July 25 2012 at 3:10 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
bhawkes328

yeap the fruitcakes of the west are at it again..... lmao

July 25 2012 at 10:17 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
IBEDIVING

The road taxes are needed to keep the roads in good shape. Everyone even those that don't drive need the roads to get goods and services.

A tax must be fair. Calculations should be made for different vehicles or the gas tax should be eliminated and this new tax implemented.

With more electric and high mileage cars something must be done because the funds aren't there anymore. All vehicles are using the roads and should pay a fair share.

Remember nothing is free it is included.

July 25 2012 at 9:42 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply