PHIL WIELAND: User fee is really a fine for doing good

2013-10-18T00:00:00Z PHIL WIELAND: User fee is really a fine for doing goodBy Phil Wieland phil.wieland@nwi.com, (219) 548-4352 nwitimes.com

Governments always needs more money, and legislators stay up nights thinking of ways to make us pay more even if it means we're paying for doing what's right.

Fines are supposed to encourage people to obey the laws and they provide a pretty lucrative source of income, but it's not enough to spread around. That's why state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Tatooine, wants to fine the do-gooders.

He doesn't call it a fine, of course, or its other alias, a tax. Soliday, of Valparaiso, wants to charge a "user fee" for driving on the highways. The fee would replace the state gasoline tax, which just isn't generating enough to maintain Indiana's roads and bridges. Things are so bad, it's more likely one of the state's bridges will collapse under you than a state legislator will come up with a good idea.

As cars become more fuel efficient, we buy less gas. That should be a good thing because fossil fuels, like petroleum, are a rapidly dwindling resource that contribute to global warming. People just aren't buying enough Hummers to keep our transportation system running like a well-oiled machine, so to speak.

Under Indiana law, it's tough enough to afford the license plates on a car that wasn't built before the Truman administration, but Soliday wants to add another fee that probably will cost more than the gas tax.

In Oregon, they charge 1.5 cents a mile. Such a fee in Indiana, with our 18 cent-a-gallon tax, would cost someone who drives 12,000 miles a year $180 instead of the $108 they now pay for the tax. based on a vehicle that gets 20 miles to the gallon. Since most people probably drive more than that and get better gas mileage, the difference will be even greater.

The state could charge a set fee for unlimited mileage or it would have to keep track of how much we drive using GPS systems in the cars that also would have to differentiate out-of-state mileage. So we could wind up sending a check to each state we drive in if others adopt the system too. And you thought the NSA were buttinskies. Other lawmakers suggested charging hybrid owners $100 a year to make up for the lost taxes.

"We need to keep moving forward on how we fund our roads," Soliday said.

Fining people instead of encouraging them to help the planet doesn't sound like moving forward. Moving forward would be charging those with low gas mileage vehicles a higher fee and investing more in mass transit. Better yet, how about a bonehead tax for legislators who introduce and/or vote for ideas like this, the gay marriage amendment, or prayer and guns in the schools?

That should be enough to give Indiana the best roads and bridges in the world.

The opinions are those of the writer. He can be reached at phil.wieland@nwi.com or (219) 548-4352.

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