Sunday, April 05, 2009

Toll Roads

I usually like DarkSyde's posts over at Kos, but his attack on Texas toll roads has a lot of problems.

Over the past decade, Texas has decided to create toll roads out of a few of its many highways. While I recognize that a toll road is a regressive tax, in the current anti-tax climate continuing to dominate the United States, user fees are one way for states to earn money. I don't know exactly how the state spends the toll money--it could be spent poorly. Knowing Texas, it probably is misspent, but DarkSyde doesn't really explore this question.

What really bothers me about this post is that DarkSyde buys Republican anti-tax sentiment whole hog. The thrust of the post is this: "We're taxed on everything else and now we are being taxed to drive on our roads! An outrage!" Well, lots of states have toll roads and things seem to be just fine. Moreover, one can make a quite legitimate argument that people should be taxed to drive, much as they are taxed to drink and smoke. Again, while I recognize the regressive nature of this tax, ultimately if we are serious about dealing with climate change, we have to either reduce incentives to drive or tax the action to pay for the changes we need.

People can choose to take individual roads because they are faster if they want to pay for it. This leads to another problem with the post--as far as I know, there is not a single case where someone is forced to take a toll road because they face a lack of other roads. This is Texas. There are new roads being created or expanded all the time. There are lots of ways to go. Toll roads provide people a choice. Certainly, it'd be great if some of that money was going to public transportation and other progressive urban planning legislation, but even this problem is marginal to DarkSyde's argument of being pissed off when he has to pay a toll.

But again, the real problem here is the anti-tax sentiment. It's going to be a long rhetorical battle to fight back the Republicans on this issue. We have a long ways to go to convince people of taxation's benefits. Using Republican arguments when we face an issue we don't personally like is really damaging. That was a really irresponsible post that I hope other people also take to task.