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We can start with the federal fuel tax which hasn't been raised in 20 years.



Got any other great ideas that tax the working poor?

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The tax could have a negative impact on the working poor, at least initially, but it's important to distinguish between short-term and long-term.

A historical example comes to mind: the collapse of the slave industry in the American South in the 1800s. (Please note that I'm referring to very specific aspects of the trade; I'm not by any means equating slavery with the energy sector, morally or otherwise.)

If you were to consider abolition from a short-term point of view, as many Americans did, it seemed like a terrible idea. It had catastrophic effects on millions of working, poor Americans. After all, it meant crippling the nation's single largest industry.

And yet, when we reflect on the American slave trade and its eventual decline, those hardships are trumped by greater moral and economic imperatives. The moral imperatives go without saying. The economic ones had to do with recognizing the true cost of labor and finding new opportunities, some of which were outside of agriculture.

Some moral and economic imperatives exist in our current conversation about restructuring the energy industry, which are only visible from a long-term perspective. For example, we're morally bound to address the long-term environmental impact and dangerousness of car travel (although, again, I'm not suggesting this moral imperative is equal to that of abolishing slavery). From an economic standpoint, we're also bound to recognize that our current methods of producing and consuming energy are unsustainable.

TL;DR: Sometimes radically restructuring an industry is the smart - and right - thing to do, despite the relatively short-term economic hardships that it causes.

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It's possible to point out that a tax is regressive without being snarky.

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You are correct, I just get annoyed at flippant comments about changing government policy that just happens to affect billions without thinking through the consequences.

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Installing freeways and building roads with no sidewalks affects millions of people but nobody seems to care about that.

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Uh, I do? Not sure what I'm being accused of. I like sidewalks.

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Spend the fuel tax on a rebate given equally to every American. People can use it for gas money or, if they take the bus, to buy a sandwich.

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This. Especially in cities, where car usage is a classic example of the tragedy of the commons. I personally would love to see the entirety of public transportation in major cities paid for by those who want to drive. Muni, BART, CalTrain, NYC Subway, etc. should all be funded via a tax on those who prefer to drive in a region where public transportation exists.

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@sejje.

See, this is where I have to disagree - I think people who insist on driving their own cars should fund those who take public transport.

The government is trying to encourage public transportation - that puts less stress on roads and infrastructure, it causes less pollution and damage to the environment, and means roads are less congested.

Also, public transport is one of those funny things that actually gets better the more people use it.

Fares will go down, and you'd get more frequent services.

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Replying to the comment from sejje:

It's called negative externalities - the free-market unfortunately doesn't account for all costs.

If I smoke a cigarette - I only pay for the cigarette - but it's those around me that also get sick from the second-hand smoke. That's why the government taxes them.

Likewise, if I buy a gas-guzzling SUV, which churns out black smoke to all my neighbours around - I only pay for the gas - but it's those around me that also suffer.

Basically, if we apply your logic, then we would live in a every-man-for-himself society, where we'd do whatever we could to get ahead, and not care about the impact on those around us.

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Victor: that's not what he's suggesting. He's suggesting that an entirely separate party (drivers) pay for what others use (public trans).

Paying for what you use and a little extra to offset the negatives is still just paying for what you use.

Further, who pays for the roads the public transportation uses? I have a guess: drivers.

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Why wouldn't you want to see it paid for by people who want to use public transportation?

I think people should pay for whatever they want to use.

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The impact car emissions have on the working poor is far more costly and dangerous.

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And I doubt raising the tax rate on fuel would do much at all, in America at least. Gas prices have gone up significantly over the last few decades and we drive more and more.

EDIT:

Can't reply because of HN time restrictions on long threads, but I think the reduction on driving is more due to cities and housing centers within cities getting denser - even Houston is doing that, and we've traditionally been very spread out. We still are, but it's improving.

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Actually we drive less and less per person since ~2004. And the total Vehicular Miles Travelled has been the same since 2004, even though population is growing. This is a significant trend. http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2013/07/yet-more-ev...

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That's not really true. During the gas price spike a couple years ago I do remember several articles that showed that we drove a lot less when the prices were higher.

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Only were that money guaranteed--guaranteed!--to go into public transportation projects (light rail, trolleys, etc.).

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