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Political Pick Pocketing or How to Take Money Without "Raising Taxes"


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#1 LFC

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Posted 21 November 2016 - 05:38 PM

I just learned something that's been going on here in Pennsylvania for a while, and it's another example of Republicans picking other people's pockets in hidden ways instead of raising taxes. The story I heard was broadcast on KYW, the local 24 hour news radio station. Here's the gist of what they reported on. The bold parts are mine, and as a daily commuter on the Pennsylvania Turnpike have me seething.

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The PA Turnpike Commission determined that an immediate reduction in capital spending is unnecessary for the time being; but commissioners yesterday approved a list of a half-dozen major projects — two new Turnpike extensions in the west and four new connections in the east — that it could suspend if future financial or economic conditions dictate.

“Our analysis shows that there’s simply no benefit to making deeper cuts to our capital spending right now,” said PA Turnpike Chairman Sean Logan of Monroeville. “Such a measure would have little or no impact on upcoming toll increases or on the debt needed to meet our funding obligations; furthermore, doing so would result in charging travelers more while they, in essence, get less value for their toll dollar and possibly even reduced safety. That just doesn’t add up.”

Earlier this year, Turnpike commissioners approved a reduced, 10-year capital plan that was more affordable in light of the yearly toll hikes and escalating debt required to satisfy the commission’s annual payments to PennDOT as mandated by Act 44 of 2007 and Act 89 of 2013. In fact, the new spending plan of $5.77 billion represents a cut of 14 percent or $1 billion in the next decade compared to the previous plan.

“Further reductions to investment in our system could lead to lower bond ratings and put us on unstable financial ground by increasing borrowing costs,” Logan said. “Even more importantly, underfunding our core asset could endanger the condition of our pavement and bridges and consequently the safety of travelers.”

The six projects targeted for possible suspension are considered to be “performance-driven projects” — meaning they go above and beyond what is required to safely maintain the existing, 552-mile PA Turnpike system. All six involve adding new extensions or new interchanges to the current PA Turnpike.

“We will continue to carefully monitor traffic and revenue to ensure sustained growth,” Logan said. “If and when a downturn should demand action, commissioners can select from the deferral list to quickly lower capital costs and better enable us to meet our other funding priorities — upkeep of our aging toll-road network and our $450 million annual payments to PennDOT.”

The turnpike was once supposedly self-sufficient. It's tolls were there to pay for maintenance and care. So why the F*** do my tolls for the use of that road also have to fund nearly a half billion in other projects in the state? Why aren't these other projects funded through a use tax on the people who, you know, actually use those roads. And by use tax I mean an increase in gas taxes. This brand of political cowardice makes me sick. And my tolls go up again next year not because the cost of maintaining the turnpike is leaping but because the rest of the state want something for nothing.
" 'Individual conscience' means that women only get contraceptives if their employers, their physicians, their pharmacists, their husbands and/or fathers, pastors, and possibly their mayors, Governors, State Secretaries of Health, Congressmen, Senators, and President all agree that in that particular case they're justifiable." --D.C. Sessions

"That's the problem with being implacable foes - no one has any incentive to treat you as anything more than an obstacle to be overcome."

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""The GOP ... where every accusation is also a confession." --Progressive Whisperer

#2 LFC

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Posted 21 November 2016 - 05:41 PM

More on the damage that my state's politicians wrought the instant they touched something that was actually working.

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Frequent Pennsylvania Turnpike drivers might want to start stashing away some dough.

As the highway system's debt nears $10 billion this year, partly because of hundreds of millions of dollars in mandated annual payments to PennDOT, turnpike officials said there's only one viable option to cover increasing debt payments — annual toll increases of 3 percent to 51/2 percent.

“In order to maintain our bond rating, we will have to raise rates on an annual basis,” turnpike CEO Mark Compton said. “There aren't any other options.”

Turnpike financial statistics show the debt ballooned since dipping to $2.18 billion in 2006. It reached $8.7 billion at the end of fiscal year 2013 and will be $9.5 billion when the 2014 fiscal year ends.

Transportation experts and politicians trace the turnpike's predicament in large part to Act 44 of 2007, which requires $450 million in annual payments to PennDOT. The law originally called for adding tolls to Interstate 80 to simultaneously increase turnpike revenue. Federal officials rejected the tolling plan, but not before the turnpike dished out $750 million, $850 million and $900 million to PennDOT each year from 2008 to 2010. State officials lowered the payments to $450 million in 2011.

“Every year, the turnpike issues new debt to cover the payments, but borrowing isn't the problem. Paying it back is the problem. In five years, the debt service will double,” said Frank Gamrat, a senior research associate at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy who has studied the turnpike. “What we have found, even with all the toll increases, we're seeing toll revenues increase at a decreasing rate. How much will the traveling public put up with before they find another way?”

Compton said his agency closely monitors traffic counts and is sensitive to that concern. But he said the turnpike has to be maintained.

“We're asking our customers to pay a premium to ride the road, so we have to make sure it's maintained well,” Compton said.

Some relief is in sight. The state transportation law passed last year, Act 89, cut the $450 million payments to $50 million a year in 2022. It hiked wholesale gas taxes and increased vehicle-related fees as part of a $2.3 billion package to fix the state's crumbling roads and bridges and fund mass transit.

Steve Chizmar, spokesman for Gov. Tom Corbett, said Act 89 “helps the turnpike manage its long-term debt load, improves its financial outlook for rating agencies, and it allows the turnpike to focus on its own necessary reconstruction plans.”

Former state Auditor General Jack Wagner said he hoped the transportation law would have stopped the turnpike payments within two years. He issued an audit in January 2012 voicing concerns over the debt.

“I said then, and I continue to feel now, all it's doing is putting them on a financial cliff. Soon, they are going to be in more debt than the value of the turnpike,” Wagner said. “The turnpike needs these resources. They can't be turning it over an additional eight years.”

Turnpike drivers weren't happy at the prospect of escalating tolls. The agency raised them for six consecutive years, including a 12 percent increase in January for cash-paying customers and 2 percent for E-ZPass customers. The agency hiked rates by 25 percent in 2009.

" 'Individual conscience' means that women only get contraceptives if their employers, their physicians, their pharmacists, their husbands and/or fathers, pastors, and possibly their mayors, Governors, State Secretaries of Health, Congressmen, Senators, and President all agree that in that particular case they're justifiable." --D.C. Sessions

"That's the problem with being implacable foes - no one has any incentive to treat you as anything more than an obstacle to be overcome."

"The 'Road to Serfdom' is really all right turns." --Progressive Whisperer

""The GOP ... where every accusation is also a confession." --Progressive Whisperer

#3 LFC

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Posted 12 March 2019 - 12:59 PM

The pick pocketing of PA Turnpike tolls to fund other road projects and mass transit has run into a big, fat lawsuit. A similar suit in New York was won by truckers who said it violated federal law.

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“All this borrowing has severely eroded the PTC’s financial position,” Gamrat cautions. “In fiscal 2018, the PTC had total assets of $8.9 billion and total liabilities of $14.5 billion for a total net position of a negative $5.6 billion.”

And, those rising tolls appear to have taken their toll as well. Growth, as measured by vehicle transactions, has been quite modest over the last decade. But, more importantly, revenue mile per commercial vehicle has fallen dramatically — by 12 percent — since fiscal 2008.

“Perhaps commercial vehicles are not able to pass along to their customers the increased cost of using the turnpike and may be finding alternatives to using the system,” Gamrat surmises.

Talk about a house of cards. The very poor decision to use toll money elsewhere not only has created a situation in which the Turnpike Commission must constantly raise tolls and keep borrowing to meet obligations, it also has created significant legal jeopardy that could force a wholesale redesign of transportation funding in the Keystone State.

To wit, the same group of truckers that successfully sued the State of New York for running afoul of federal law by misdirecting toll proceeds has filed suit against the Pennsylvania practice. The PTC has placed the money it’s supposed to be paying PennDOT into escrow pending the litigation’s resolution.

“What if federal courts find for the truckers again?” asks Gamrat. “Will they win back-tolls? And, how will the current governor and Legislature react regarding transportation funding?

" 'Individual conscience' means that women only get contraceptives if their employers, their physicians, their pharmacists, their husbands and/or fathers, pastors, and possibly their mayors, Governors, State Secretaries of Health, Congressmen, Senators, and President all agree that in that particular case they're justifiable." --D.C. Sessions

"That's the problem with being implacable foes - no one has any incentive to treat you as anything more than an obstacle to be overcome."

"The 'Road to Serfdom' is really all right turns." --Progressive Whisperer

""The GOP ... where every accusation is also a confession." --Progressive Whisperer

#4 HockeyDon

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Posted 12 March 2019 - 01:59 PM

Toll roads are a bane on travelers.

CT, not happy being nearly one of the most heavily taxed states, has our newly minted governor talking about implementing toll roads. Just great.
Well, fuck.

How can I be expected to distinguish BS from reality when so much of my reality is utter BS?!

"There seems to be a lot of people dying of ignorance while living in the information age." my sister-in-law.

#5 LFC

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Posted 12 March 2019 - 02:08 PM

View PostHockeyDon, on 12 March 2019 - 01:59 PM, said:

Toll roads are a bane on travelers.

I don't mind them if they move, are well maintained, and don't constantly bog down at the toll plazas. If I'm paying then I expect a (driver's) seat in first class. By and large the PA, NJ, and DE toll roads I've traveled on are pretty good.
" 'Individual conscience' means that women only get contraceptives if their employers, their physicians, their pharmacists, their husbands and/or fathers, pastors, and possibly their mayors, Governors, State Secretaries of Health, Congressmen, Senators, and President all agree that in that particular case they're justifiable." --D.C. Sessions

"That's the problem with being implacable foes - no one has any incentive to treat you as anything more than an obstacle to be overcome."

"The 'Road to Serfdom' is really all right turns." --Progressive Whisperer

""The GOP ... where every accusation is also a confession." --Progressive Whisperer

#6 Traveler

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Posted 12 March 2019 - 02:42 PM

View PostLFC, on 12 March 2019 - 12:59 PM, said:

The pick pocketing of PA Turnpike tolls to fund other road projects and mass transit has run into a big, fat lawsuit. A similar suit in New York was won by truckers who said it violated federal law.
This really ticks me off. Not the skimming and diversion. Its the effing truckers. You realize that a truck paying $5k/y in gas taxes is creating the damage equivalent to at least 1000 cars paying $250 each? Talk about foisting externalities on the commons. How can rail compete with that? They have access all those roads that we pay for and they trash for virtually no cost . Not to mention obnoxious driving habits. They pass when they shouldn't, and bog down in the left lane, and then speed up once back in the right lane. They are actually screwing with the four wheelers who they hate. The feeling is mutual.
"Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened."-- Winston Churchill
"Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices" Voltaire

#7 HockeyDon

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Posted 12 March 2019 - 03:02 PM

View PostTraveler, on 12 March 2019 - 02:42 PM, said:

This really ticks me off. Not the skimming and diversion. Its the effing truckers. You realize that a truck paying $5k/y in gas taxes is creating the damage equivalent to at least 1000 cars paying $250 each? Talk about foisting externalities on the commons. How can rail compete with that? They have access all those roads that we pay for and they trash for virtually no cost . Not to mention obnoxious driving habits. They pass when they shouldn't, and bog down in the left lane, and then speed up once back in the right lane. They are actually screwing with the four wheelers who they hate. The feeling is mutual.

Sure, but we'll pay no matter what. If the costs those trucks have to pay is increased, it just gets passed on to consumers who buy the goods. They're not going to eat the extra costs. The saying "if you buy it, a truck delivered it" is still true today.
Well, fuck.

How can I be expected to distinguish BS from reality when so much of my reality is utter BS?!

"There seems to be a lot of people dying of ignorance while living in the information age." my sister-in-law.

#8 Traveler

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Posted 12 March 2019 - 03:38 PM

For sure. How much would it increase costs? I am guessing it would increase food by maybe as much as 5%. I am a fan of externalities being priced in. If it costs more, so be it. this will make rail even more competitive. Note I forgot to add how much drivers pay for pothole damage. And lost travel time That roughly doubles that annual cost. Think how much money is saved, while the roads are that much more pleasant to drive on.
"Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened."-- Winston Churchill
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#9 Bact PhD

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Posted 13 March 2019 - 08:23 AM

View PostHockeyDon, on 12 March 2019 - 01:59 PM, said:

Toll roads are a bane on travelers.

CT, not happy being nearly one of the most heavily taxed states, has our newly minted governor talking about implementing toll roads. Just great.
Agreed.

So what is Flori-DUH proposing to get out of its backlog of needed road construction? More toll roads, and in places where the locals absolutely do NOT want them!
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#10 HockeyDon

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Posted 13 March 2019 - 09:13 AM

View PostLFC, on 12 March 2019 - 02:08 PM, said:

I don't mind them if they move, are well maintained, and don't constantly bog down at the toll plazas. If I'm paying then I expect a (driver's) seat in first class. By and large the PA, NJ, and DE toll roads I've traveled on are pretty good.

In addition to the issues outlined in the previous few posts, the idea that they are somehow better roads doesn't hold water. Highways with tolls provide about the same driving experience that non-toll highways have. At least as far as I've seen.
Well, fuck.

How can I be expected to distinguish BS from reality when so much of my reality is utter BS?!

"There seems to be a lot of people dying of ignorance while living in the information age." my sister-in-law.

#11 andydp

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Posted 13 March 2019 - 09:58 AM

View PostHockeyDon, on 12 March 2019 - 01:59 PM, said:

Toll roads are a bane on travelers.

CT, not happy being nearly one of the most heavily taxed states, has our newly minted governor talking about implementing toll roads. Just great.

I lived in CT all of my life until 1983. I fondly remember the tolls on I 95 aka Connecticut Turnpike, the Wilbur Cross and Merritt Parkways. Why they ever got rid of them is beyond me. NY state is keeping the tolls on the NYS Thruway because its a major cash cow. Our tolls go up with some regularity. Don't kid yourselves, there's always major repairs needed because of our winter weather.

Now look at Delaware and New Hampshire. If you blink twice you miss either state BUT... they're basically the only game in town so, like it or not, you pay their tolls. ($2.00 for New Hampshire, $ 4.00 in Delaware) If you want to get to Maryland you also have to traverse the Delaware Memorial Bridge $ 4.00.

Massachusetts got rid of their toll plazas and went to all electronic. EZ Pass is the only game in town there. It's probably what will happen in CT.
Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

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Obamacare took my guns away and put me in a FEMA reeducation camp.

Anonymous

If you've got public schools paid for by taxpayers, you're in a socialist nation. If you have public roads paid for by taxpayers, socialist nation. If you've got public defense (police, fire, military, coast guard) paid for by tax dollars, socialist nation. If you're in a nation that has nationalized or localized delivery of services that are not paid for by users alone, you're in a socialist nation- the only question is how socialist. As I see it, we have the military pay to protecting the shipping lanes for our fuel needs which makes up very socialist. In a capitalist nation, the people supplying the oil would pay for their own defense force.


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#12 HockeyDon

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Posted 13 March 2019 - 10:08 AM

View Postandydp, on 13 March 2019 - 09:58 AM, said:

Massachusetts got rid of their toll plazas and went to all electronic. EZ Pass is the only game in town there. It's probably what will happen in CT.

Yeah, and as an added bonus, automatic speeding tickets! That's in Mass now, anyway.
Well, fuck.

How can I be expected to distinguish BS from reality when so much of my reality is utter BS?!

"There seems to be a lot of people dying of ignorance while living in the information age." my sister-in-law.

#13 LFC

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Posted 13 March 2019 - 10:11 AM

View PostHockeyDon, on 13 March 2019 - 09:13 AM, said:

In addition to the issues outlined in the previous few posts, the idea that they are somehow better roads doesn't hold water. Highways with tolls provide about the same driving experience that non-toll highways have. At least as far as I've seen.

Come to Pennsylvania! The Turnpike is at least as well and usually better maintained than the overwhelming majority of roads. They are widening it where it needs to be widened. There are new exits being put in with slip ramps (EZ Pass only) to keep commuter traffic moving. Meanwhile getting anything done on I-95 seems to be a friggin' nightmare and the paving quality of I-78, at least the seciton I've used, is nowhere close.
" 'Individual conscience' means that women only get contraceptives if their employers, their physicians, their pharmacists, their husbands and/or fathers, pastors, and possibly their mayors, Governors, State Secretaries of Health, Congressmen, Senators, and President all agree that in that particular case they're justifiable." --D.C. Sessions

"That's the problem with being implacable foes - no one has any incentive to treat you as anything more than an obstacle to be overcome."

"The 'Road to Serfdom' is really all right turns." --Progressive Whisperer

""The GOP ... where every accusation is also a confession." --Progressive Whisperer

#14 Traveler

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Posted 13 March 2019 - 10:29 AM

View PostHockeyDon, on 13 March 2019 - 10:08 AM, said:

Yeah, and as an added bonus, automatic speeding tickets! That's in Mass now, anyway.
I thought that was supposed to be illegal. Guess they changed that. Stupid move IMO. In PA, about half the drivers are running 82-83 on 65-70 mph limits. If they ticket all of those, they'd lose a lot of revenue as they would stay away.
"Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened."-- Winston Churchill
"Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices" Voltaire

#15 HockeyDon

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Posted 13 March 2019 - 10:39 AM

View PostLFC, on 13 March 2019 - 10:11 AM, said:

Come to Pennsylvania! The Turnpike is at least as well and usually better maintained than the overwhelming majority of roads. They are widening it where it needs to be widened. There are new exits being put in with slip ramps (EZ Pass only) to keep commuter traffic moving. Meanwhile getting anything done on I-95 seems to be a friggin' nightmare and the paving quality of I-78, at least the seciton I've used, is nowhere close.

I've driven through the Pennsyltucky wasteland a couple of times. Mostly good condition, one instance of construction slowing everything down to a crawl, which is universal so not a negative on that highway.

A couple years ago I went to visit my father in SC, taking the "western" route (down 81) so I could miss NYC, NJ, DC, etc. The road quality was pretty much the same as toll roads, and noticeable better than the last time I had to use the NJ toll road.
Well, fuck.

How can I be expected to distinguish BS from reality when so much of my reality is utter BS?!

"There seems to be a lot of people dying of ignorance while living in the information age." my sister-in-law.

#16 andydp

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Posted 13 March 2019 - 01:08 PM

View PostTraveler, on 13 March 2019 - 10:29 AM, said:

I thought that was supposed to be illegal. Guess they changed that. Stupid move IMO. In PA, about half the drivers are running 82-83 on 65-70 mph limits. If they ticket all of those, they'd lose a lot of revenue as they would stay away.

All you have to do is stop at a couple of rest areas for a few minutes. Get off for gas.
Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

Rev Martin Luther King Jr.


Obamacare took my guns away and put me in a FEMA reeducation camp.

Anonymous

If you've got public schools paid for by taxpayers, you're in a socialist nation. If you have public roads paid for by taxpayers, socialist nation. If you've got public defense (police, fire, military, coast guard) paid for by tax dollars, socialist nation. If you're in a nation that has nationalized or localized delivery of services that are not paid for by users alone, you're in a socialist nation- the only question is how socialist. As I see it, we have the military pay to protecting the shipping lanes for our fuel needs which makes up very socialist. In a capitalist nation, the people supplying the oil would pay for their own defense force.


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#17 HockeyDon

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Posted 13 March 2019 - 01:48 PM

View Postandydp, on 13 March 2019 - 01:08 PM, said:

All you have to do is stop at a couple of rest areas for a few minutes. Get off for gas.

I'm quite sure 'more revenue generation' was and is the reason for ever-expanding toll road shenanigans. Whether that's from speeding tickets or forcing motorists to stop at rest areas where "competition" is highly regimented (read: lobbied) or automatic billing through license plate scanning technology is irrelevant.
Well, fuck.

How can I be expected to distinguish BS from reality when so much of my reality is utter BS?!

"There seems to be a lot of people dying of ignorance while living in the information age." my sister-in-law.

#18 golden_valley

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Posted 13 March 2019 - 01:58 PM

View PostHockeyDon, on 13 March 2019 - 01:48 PM, said:

I'm quite sure 'more revenue generation' was and is the reason for ever-expanding toll road shenanigans. Whether that's from speeding tickets or forcing motorists to stop at rest areas where "competition" is highly regimented (read: lobbied) or automatic billing through license plate scanning technology is irrelevant.

There is also a reluctance to increase gas taxes, something that is vastly unpopular, but that is sort of a user fee. However as more electric cars are purchased there is no gas to be taxed, so something must be done to cover maintenance needs caused by usage of the roads. I don't know that toll roads are the way to go, but something is needed. The population as a whole benefits from well maintained roads.

#19 HockeyDon

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Posted 13 March 2019 - 03:26 PM

View Postgolden_valley, on 13 March 2019 - 01:58 PM, said:

There is also a reluctance to increase gas taxes, something that is vastly unpopular, but that is sort of a user fee. However as more electric cars are purchased there is no gas to be taxed, so something must be done to cover maintenance needs caused by usage of the roads. I don't know that toll roads are the way to go, but something is needed. The population as a whole benefits from well maintained roads.

;) Thanks. That's what I was looking for.

So, instead of raising taxes in some manner to pay for road, they institute these "non-tax" methods of raising revenue.

Start making people pay extra for the roads their taxes are supposed to be paying for.

Then, institute a method where the bill to collect said money; toll booths. Of course this pisses off commuters badly enough that implementation is sporadic, nationwide anyway.

Once technology catches up, start using a method where the bill is automatically generated, instead of having to go through a toll-booth and slow down traffic and piss off commuters. Enter license plate readers and automatic bill generation (which we've been hit with, of course).

Then allow commuters to put a credit card on record to automatically pay this bill, or to purchase an "EZ pass".
(And why is it called an "EZ pass"? To get people used to the idea that this is somehow easier than... not having toll roads? Waitjustadamnminute!)

So we have a system where money is automatically taken by a government agency (sometimes with that nice private entity in the middle to take a cut) and applied toward a public works project.

A tax by a different name.

Specifically, a tax that burdens those who make less money (not that gas tax didn't already do this). I'm quite sure that Delaware Memorial Bridge $4.00 fee, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year is much harder on someone making $8.25 per hour than it is for someone making $100k per year.
Well, fuck.

How can I be expected to distinguish BS from reality when so much of my reality is utter BS?!

"There seems to be a lot of people dying of ignorance while living in the information age." my sister-in-law.

#20 Traveler

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Posted 14 March 2019 - 06:33 AM

View Postgolden_valley, on 13 March 2019 - 01:58 PM, said:

There is also a reluctance to increase gas taxes, something that is vastly unpopular, but that is sort of a user fee. However as more electric cars are purchased there is no gas to be taxed, so something must be done to cover maintenance needs caused by usage of the roads. I don't know that toll roads are the way to go, but something is needed. The population as a whole benefits from well maintained roads.
As I pointed out, cars do not damage roads at all. It's trucks that cause all the damage that we need to all constantly pay for. So electric cars are not abusing the commons per se.
"Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened."-- Winston Churchill
"Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices" Voltaire





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