Reporter's Note: The President has asked for ideas on how to run America. The best one I’ve come up with so far is this: writing a letter a day to the White House.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/02/20/driving.tax/art.gps.gi.jpg caption="The mileage tax idea involves tracking drivers through GPS units in their cars, but the Obama Administration stated it will not support the policy."]
Tom Foreman | Bio
Dear Mr. President,
Give yourself a pat on the back! Heck, have Biden do it for you; he’s not busy.
Hands down, you have made the single smartest move of your month-old presidency by saying you will not pursue a mileage tax on drivers. And probably the worst move? Letting it come up in the first place. Did no one have a talk with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood about teamwork? Cabinet members who run off freelancing ideas can be bad for a president’s political health.
I’m sure you’ve got plenty of folks bending your ear with arguments as to why a mileage tax would be good. If you charge people for every mile they drive, they’ll tell you, you’ll encourage fuel conservation. You’ll cut down on pollution. You’ll reduce traffic congestion, too. But the primary reason this idea is even up for consideration in some states, is that people are doing a better job conserving, so gas tax revenues are not as high as they once were. In other words, taxpayers have done what they were asked to do, but now they’re being told they can’t hold on to one of the benefits.
And whether these governments need that money or not, I can assure you this is one of the fastest ways to start a crushing political fight and further weaken the sense that, as you put it, “we’re all in this together.” Through many years of reporting, I have found this to be precisely the kind of thing that makes voters think government is really all about itself, not them, and pretty soon you’ll see them break out the pitchforks and torches.
A plan like this is fraught with unbelievable difficulties. Putting mileage trackers on cars would instantly raise privacy protests. Rural counties would automatically proclaim that mileage taxes are unfairly punitive to their voters. Western states would make the same argument. (Did you know that if you picked up Montana and dropped it to the east, one end would be on Washington DC, and the other on Chicago? You could walk home and never cross a state line!) And speaking of going back to Chicago, would we have to pay for Roland Burris’ return trip?
Anyway, while I’m sure the idea will come up again; let me say congratulations once more for recognizing a mine field when you see one. Voters, I suspect, have been through so much pain at the pump, they won’t be able to take it if they are hit harder just driving to the gas station.
If you get a minute call this weekend; or better yet, swing by if you want on Saturday night. We’ve got some friends coming over for a little Mardi Gras celebration. I’ll introduce you around.
For more of the Foreman Letters, click here.
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