As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Green vehicle fees: an idea whose time has come

The governor exacerbated the budget problem on his first day in office by slashing the vehicle license fee and denying the state billions of dollars in revenue. He could return money to the state's coffers without going back on his promise, by hewing to his supposed environmental credentials and following the will of the people:

Californians support the idea of charging "green" vehicle fees that would make drivers of gas guzzlers pay higher taxes and offer discounts for those driving less-polluting vehicles, according to a survey by a transportation researcher at San Jose State University.

The state now charges drivers registration and licensing fees and gasoline taxes at rates that do not take into account vehicles' pollution levels. But the survey, conducted by Asha Weinstein Agrawal, a research associate with the university's Mineta Transportation Institute, found that Californians would support a variety of taxes and fees to raise money for transportation improvements as well as combat global warming, including:

-- Raising vehicle registration fees, which now average $31, to an average of $62 and having higher-polluting vehicles pay higher rates and cleaner cars lower rates.

-- Offering rebates of up to $1,000 for people who buy new cars that emit very little pollution and levying a surcharge of as much as $2,000 on those purchasing gas hogs.

-- Levying a mileage-based tax that would replace the 18-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax. The per-mile amount would vary depending on how much a vehicle polluted the air.

"The public is very supportive of these green taxes and fees," said Agrawal. "This shows that it is realistic to improve the way we collect transportation taxes in this state."

You could even make this revenue-neutral for all I care and it would still have a meaningful impact. But if the budget could be improved and the air quality at the same time, all the better. The governor talks a good game on global warming but hasn't yet called for the kind of action necessary. This could be coupled with a direct investment in mass transit and incentives for transit riders, so that those who can't afford low-emitting vehicles aren't adversely affected. We're not going to get rid of the car culture in one fell swoop, so encouraging consumers to buy clean energy vehicles while implementing the proper smart growth and transit policies (along with massive renewable infrastructure) will get us there in stages with a meaningful reduction in emissions right at the beginning. The people want it, the government needs to give it to them.

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