Gas Tax Pandering

It’s hard to know where to start with this one. John McCain at least openly acknowledges that economics isn’t his strong suit. Senator Kyl, I would have thought, would know better. Pure pandering.

Here we are in the midst of a big brown-cloud and ozone non-attainment season, and our two senators are endorsing a plan to increase the amount to gasoline and diesel consumed. Vehicle emissions in Maricopa county (the Phoenix metropolitan area) are the primary contributor to smog.

As if that’s not bad enough, the shortfall — the amount that would have been collected during the “holiday” — will be made up from general revenue. Which is to say, car use will be (further) subsidized by taxes unrelated to driving, like the income tax, or will simply make the federal deficit larger. This sets up exactly the wrong incentives– you will get more driving and less useful economic activity.

From a economic policy perspective, a much better stimulus would be to have some sort of “holiday” on payroll taxes. These taxes are a direct tax on labor, and hit lower-wage earners particularly hard.

“…John McCain proposed a ‘gas tax holiday’ that would suspend federal levies between Memorial Day and Labor Day… His Arizona colleague, Jon Kyl, promptly introduced it as Senate legislation”

“The 18.4 cent tax per gallon of gas (24.4 cents for diesel) funds interstate highway repairs and other transit needs, though general revenue would offset losses from the moratorium.”

Global Warming Holiday, WSJ April 25, 2008. (emphasis added)

DUI bill passes with help from speaker

UPDATE June 7, 2008:  HB2643 passed and signed. Score one for Napalitano. So the interlock stays at a year.

UPDATE April 30, 2008: The governor vetoed the bill, citing the interlock compromise as untenable. Liquor industy lobbyiests allowed House Speaker Jim Weiers to allow the bill to go forth because is contained the interlock reduction. There were perfectly good bills — being blocked — that would have given use perfectly sensible reform, e.g. the fix for conflicting penalties for extreme DUI.

In an unusual stroke of consistency, a bunch of competing DUI changes were rolled up and passed. Continue reading DUI bill passes with help from speaker

Ozone and CAFE

Coincidentally, two related-but-unrelated items came out today.

A new National Academy of Sciences report confirms (reconfirms?) the link between elevated ozone air pollution and increased risk of premature death was released. See, e.g. Panel Confirms That Ozone Kills, US News & World Report April 23, 2008. Ozone is an unavoidable byproduct any combustion, e.g. automobile use.

On the fuel-economy front, presumably to coincide with earth day, Bush Administration released accelerated CAFE standards. See e.g. Government to release proposed fuel economy rules, Associated Press April 22, 2008.

Holman Jenkins’ WSJ Business World column, A Volt out of the Red, gave his usual analysis of CAFE, which I believe is right, and I tend to agree with. My complain is his sin of omission — does he not know about toxic pollution? He continues to berate the Prius, as in this dig “…GM intends to beat Toyota at its own game of selling bogus green symbolism to Washington and Hollywood”.

Does toxic pollution not count? Since apparently Jenkins doesn’t “believe in” global warming, does that also mean he doesn’t believe in air pollution either?.

The Toyota Prius (note 1) puts out only about one-half the ozone-forming pollutants per mile of the average new car (average is defined as being bin 5). An absurd vehicle like the Hummer H2, bin 8, emits between two and ten TIMES as much ozone-forming pollutants (note 2). How much more are H2 drivers paying to pollute the air, say, compared to Prius driver? Nothing. Drivers pay nothing. And if you can believe it, the H2 situation now is much better than it was a few years ago, in 2004 model year the H2 emitted between five and 30 times the pollution of a Prius.

And it’s not like Toyota is “green” and Hummer (owned by GM) is dirty — Toyota produces their own dirty cars, e.g. in 2008 the Scion XD bin 8, just like the H2. Though it looks like Toyota never produces a bin 11 car.

What’s the point? I don’t own a Prius. The point isn’t for everyone to run out and buy a low-emissions vehicle — that actually wouldn’t work because the regulations work on a fleet average. A constructive start would be to price pollution appropriately. This simple market-based solution would reduce the total amounts of smog and result in better health for all. The polluter, that is to say the driver, should pay.


1) See EPA GreenVehicle Guide, About Ratings. Pdfs for vehicle emissions standards, and summary/history (the glossary is particularly useful). This explains the Tier 1, and Tier 2 “bins”. This is all terribly confusing because the bin number (1 through 11) goes up as pollution goes up — whereas the EPA’s “Air Pollution Score” (10 downto 0) goes down.

2) Retrieved from the 2008 model year EPA Green Vehicle Guide.

-) Another explanation of Tiers and Bins at

-) Excellent article at Edmunds: Untangling U.S. Vehicle Emissions Regulations

AAA Report on cost of Automobile Crashes

How much of these costs are socialized? The report makes no attempt to quantify this, some of the stories correctly note that some of these costs filter through to many other things, such as health care/insurance.

Why doesn’t our press bother to cover this? The only localized story I could find was  KPNX-12 . Once again we have risen to near the top nationwide, sixth out of 85 not too shabby! This goes hand-in-hand with Arizona’s impressively high traffic fatality rate. Which is something else the press isn’t interested in.

…The report looked at 85 cities across the nation. Phoenix ranks sixth with the highest costs due to crashes. According to the study, it costs $1,368.00 extra per person in the Valley when there is a crash. The national average is $1,052.00 per person.

Crashes Cost EveryoneKPNX-12

Continue reading AAA Report on cost of Automobile Crashes

More Shocking Arizona Fatality Stats

All of the 2006 state-by-state figures are now available, as I predicted — see Arizona leads the nation — fatality rates in Arizona which were already high, have climbed again. Both the per capita traffic fatality rate and per mile rate are now 46% higher than the US as a whole. The per capita rate is over 3 times worse than the “best state”.

And for bicyclists, there is hopeful news, the 2006 number of Arizona cyclist fatalities at 29 (out of 1288 total) seems to be in line with historical trends. The 2005 number was atypically high at 35. Continue reading More Shocking Arizona Fatality Stats

Cycling, traffic safety, traffic justice, and legal topics; energy, transit and transportion economics