The Termite State

The Hill brings us a report this morning on an exciting new option for generating government revenue: taxing us based on how many miles we drive.

Democrat Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota asked the Congressional Budget Office to look into this genius idea, which would involve installing electronic monitors in all of our automobiles, tracking how many miles we drive and uploading the results to the IRS so a wonderful new tax could be computed.  Previous proposals along these lines involved constructing a massive network of toll booths on every road in the country, but the CBO feels modern wireless technology and “electronic metering and billing are making per-mile charges a practical option.”

Perhaps the same device that monitors our mileage could also block the use of cell phones in our cars, fulfilling the vision of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  To paraphrase the old joke about Soviet-era television, in Barack Obama’s America, you don’t watch the road – the road watches you.

You might already be thinking of some practical objections to this brilliant plan: Will these Little Brothers lurking under our hoods be immune to tampering?  Will there be any way for hackers to upload phony mileage data and saddle us with huge taxes – and if so, how would we go about disputing the charges?  What happens if the tracking grid goes down?  How much will the Little Brothers cost to install and maintain, and who pays for it?  What happens if one of them breaks – will you be on a strict timetable to get to a government-supervised garage and have it promptly replaced by a qualified mechanic / IRS agent?  Is there any way we can make Kent Conrad pay for the resources wasted on this idiotic study out of his own pocket?

The philosophy behind the mileage tax is even more troubling.  Our government has become a plague of termites, burrowing through every inch of the economy in search of tax revenue.  For example, the cash-starved state of Illinois is looking at a plan to compute “use taxes” on Internet purchases retroactively.  The luckless citizens of Illinois are supposed to figure up tax on everything they buy over the Internet, and voluntarily remit these taxes to the state.  An earlier attempt to slap huge tax bills on online retailers, such as Amazon and, merely prompted them to pull their operations out of Illinois. 

In order to “help” scofflaws who didn’t save the receipt from every single online transaction, the state of Illinois has helpfully provided a list of suggested tax payments based on income level.  For instance, if you make $20,000 per year or less, you can pony up $15 and consider yourself covered.  The suggested amount for people who make over $100,000 per year is $52.  Does anyone think the Evil Rich can get away with sending fifty-two clams to the ravenous state government and consider themselves safe from audits?

No wonder the foundations of this termite-riddled economy are creaking ominously, and the entire structure threatens to come down.  It’s common sense for everyone inside such a rickety structure to move slowly and carefully.  That’s not an environment conducive to economic growth.