Congestion Pricing: Another Form of Tax Abuse and Social Welfare

To steal a thought from William Shakespeare: to tax or not to tax, that is the question. And what a question it is! Taxation is an important issue, especially when it involves our government’s policies. So, what gives the government the right to tax? At the federal level, it’s Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 of the Constitution: “The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.” As far as the states go, they have always had the right, in accordance with their own constitutions. Even treasury.gov validates this, “Ever since the beginning of our history, the states have maintained the right to impose taxes. The Federal Government has always recognized this right. When our Constitution was adopted, the Federal Government was granted the authority to impose taxes. The states, however, retained the right to impose any type of tax except those taxes that are clearly forbidden by the United States Constitution and their own state constitution.”

But what really is a tax? Dictionary.com states a tax is “a sum of money demanded by a government for its support or for specific facilities or services, levied upon incomes, property, sales, etc.” That definition isn’t bad, but it does lack some nuance. The word demanded is not exactly accurate. I believe a more correct statement would be demanded through the threat of physical force and violence. I say this not to add hyperbole to the subject, but to actually reflect the truth of the matter. For example, I can go to the grocery store and demand free food, but they are unlikely to acquiesce to my demands unless they fear for their safety.

With all of this being said, I am not some crazy anarchist who thinks that the government has no right to tax us. Although, admittedly, I am much more closely aligned with this frame of thought than liberal ideology. I remember when Nancy Pelosi stated about five years ago, “It’s almost a false argument to say we have a spending problem. We have a budget deficit problem that we have to address.” In other words, the government can spend anything they would like, they just need to take it out of the pockets of the American economy.

With this foundation laid, I would like to now bring up the idea of congestion pricing. According to ny.curbed.com, “Congestion pricing asks drivers to pay a surcharge to enter certain heavily-trafficked zones—typically a central business district (CBD)—during a particular period of time. (In New York City, that would mean a one-time surcharge in Manhattan south of 60th Street and north of Battery Park between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m.) The revenue generated could then be put toward other infrastructure repairs—e.g., the broken subway system.” First, I love the deceptive use of the word asks. Let us be clear: no matter what side of the aisle you may be on politically, I think that we can all acknowledge that the government never asks for anything. If that actually worked, then all the liberal elites would put their money where their mouths are and voluntarily pay extra taxes for all of the government welfare programs they support.

According to upworthy.com, the idea is being seriously considered by cities like Seattle and New York. The argument they make has many good points. For example, cities such as London, Singapore, and Stockholm have all enacted this policy to some success. Of course, they can do this because all these cities have exceptional public transit systems which can support the timely movement of people. According to Alex Bigazzi, Transportation Engineering professor for the University of Columbia, in addition to the government transportation system, they also rely heavily on biking, walking, and urban land management strategies.

London Congestion Charge (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Yet implementation of this policy would not be so easy. First off, American cities are far behind our European counterparts in embracing public transportation. The infrastructure simply does not exist. Additionally, Americans have never shown a desire to give up the immediate mobility of a personally owned conveyance. Finally, while Seattle may be less densely populated than the other mentioned cities, NY is 145 percent as densely populated as Singapore (population density per square mile: NY – 27k, Singapore – 18.6k, London – 11.7k, Stockholm – 10.3k). This would mandate a much more robust system than any other mentioned area.

I have no issue with the expansion of public transportation, at least in theory. I have driven in New York City, where it took me over an hour to travel all of 10 miles. I think most people would agree that having safe, clean, affordable transportation is a great idea in our overcrowded cities.

New York City’s notorious traffic congestion. (Credit: Facebook/STL.News)

My problem is that this tax is really about income redistribution. Michael Manville, UCLA Urban Planning professor, sets this up for us by defining what exactly roads are: “Free roads are probably better described as a subsidy for high-income people that low-income people sometimes enjoy when they happen to be driving.” The solution is to use the money you get from the taxation in order to subsidize the transit costs for lower-income drivers.

I am admittedly confused by the definition of free roads. In fact, I often become befuddled by the use of the word free from liberals. The same thing happened when Bernie Sanders screamed out for free college for all! See, as a lowly taxpayer, the word free means at no cost. So, when I hear free college am I to assume that the professors are all agreeing to teach for no pay? In the same light, when I hear about free roads, that means that not only are the workers giving their time away, the people who own the equipment are giving their machines away as well, just like the companies who are supplying the materials. That is some serious altruism there!

No, free means: taken by force through taxation. I already pay for those roads. Through what I would call criminal mismanagement of my taxes, I have paid more than enough money for infrastructure in my community. I am sick of the left using cute buzzwords like free, subsidy, and fair as a means to extort more money from me so that they can continue their wasteful abuses.

If local governments want to implement public transportation, go for it. Figure out a way to raise the revenue and present it to the public openly and honestly. Give the legitimate benefits to the people and let them decide. Stop using taxation to punish people in order to achieve a government-desired result. When the onion is peeled away, that is really what you are left with: the government using its power to take from you in order to force your cooperation. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about a tax on your soft drink, your gasoline, or your roads. This ideology should scare all those who love freedom, regardless of your political leanings. Almost all tyranny begins by governments abusing their power with the consent of the people.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Matthew Wadler

Matthew Wadler is a U.S. Army veteran. Matt served in the Army for 20 years as both enlisted and officer before retiring. His service includes time as Military Police, Field Artillery, Adjutant General, and Recruiting. His deployments include Somalia and two tours to Afghanistan. His formal education includes a master’s degree in HR Management. He is a strong supporter of the constitution and advocate for the military and veteran communities. Follow Matthew on Twitter @MatthewWadler.

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