California's Tax Man Eyes a New Tool: A GPS Tracker on Your Car

GPS tax information
Here's a news item that's guaranteed to inflame both the privacy activists and "taxophobes" alike: In California, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has just approved a new study aimed at raising funds for road maintenance and public transit.

Sound innocuous? It's not. When a government agency talks about "raising money," that's almost always code for "raising taxes" -- and the new "Vehicle Miles Traveled" program is no exception.

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At its heart, VMT aims to use GPS technology to track the distances drivers travel by car in the nine counties surrounding San Francisco Bay. Data from the survey would then be used to, for example, plot repairs of existing roadways, decide where to lay new asphalt, and, crucially, begin taxing road warriors based on the distances they drive.

Of course, all of this depends on GPS technology. So what if you don't currently have GPS in your car? No problem, says Frisco; they'll require you to install a "GPS-like odometer" in your car. Then, based on its readout, you can look forward to paying a road-usage fee of up to $0.10 per mile driven.

It's Not Where You Go; It's How Far You Go

Now, before you start looking over your shoulder for the black helicopters monitoring your every move, MTC officials rush to reassure: "The last thing we're interested in is where you go and what you do."

In a rare outburst of candor, the government says all it really wants to do is "figure out a way to raise revenue." If the plan is implemented, the MTC could charge drivers as much as $15 million a day. (Hopefully, not per capita).

No Need to Call Big Brother to Collect

California's candor is laudable, but it doesn't quite ring true. After all, there are any number of other ways to raise revenue and ding drivers for excessive road use with less intrusion into personal privacy. Red light cameras and toll lanes, for example, fit the bill, and give the state insight into where driving is heaviest without requiring drivers to have an electronic auditor riding shotgun.

The most obvious solution -- hiking the gasoline tax -- could cut down on driving, discourage the use of gas-hogging SUVs, and promote usage of California's already substantial investments in alternative electric power production for plug-in hybrids.

Of course, then they'd have to admit to raising taxes and not just "revenue."

Quiz: The Economy and the Tax Gap in the United States
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California's Tax Man Eyes a New Tool: A GPS Tracker on Your Car

A. 30%
B. 27%
C. 19%
D. 13.9%

Answer: C. Thanks in large part to the exceedingly generous 15% capital gains and dividend taxes, most of the super-rich pay a lower tax rate than middle-class filers making $69,001 per year.


A. The top 1%
B. The Bottom 20%

Answer: B. Taxpayers in the bottom 20% pay, on average, 8.8% of their income into Social Security. Those at the top pay, on average 1.6% of their income into Social Security.


A. The top 1%
B. The bottom 20%

Answer: B. Depending on the state, the bottom 20% of earners pay between 6.7 and 1.1 times as much of their paycheck in state taxes.


A. 28%
B. 50%
C. 62%
D. 71%

Answer: B. While he has become the patron saint of tax cutters, for most of Ronald Reagan's presidency, the top tax rate was much higher than it is today.


A. 50%
B. 41%
C. 70%
D. 91%

Answer: C. Under President Nixon, there were also up to 33 tax brackets. Today, there are six.


A. 27%
B. 39%
C. 73%
D. 91%

Answer: D. The first big drop in the top tax bracket -- to 77% -- happened under John F. Kennedy.


A. $50,000
B. $375,000
C. $5.12 million
D. $10 million

Answer: C. In 2001, the estate tax exemption topped out at $675,000, and the top rate was 55%. Today, the exemption is $5.12 million, and the top rate is 35%. Side note: $5.12 million represents the average yearly earnings of over 103 households – none of whom would get a 100% exemption on their taxes.


A. 27.3%
B. 49.3%
C. 37.8%
D. 51.7%

Answer: B. The period right before the Great Depression witnessed one of the biggest income distribution gaps in U.S. history.


A. 25.3%
B. 32.3%
C. 41.7%
D. 50.3%

Answer: B. In the 1950's, America's thriving middle class was flush with cash. Their free spending further increased employment, creating a virtuous economic cycle.


A. 21.2%
B. 30.7%
C. 37.5%
D. 49.7%

Answer: D. In other words, income distribution in the U.S. today is more unbalanced than it was before the Great Depression.



Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith holds no position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple and Google and creating a bull call spread position in Apple.
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