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Fair taxes, Driving, and the Federal Government

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There is a policy shift that’s sweeping across Florida. “Mobility fees” on new developments are based on the vehicle miles produced by the development. Rural development produces housing that requires lots of driving. Urban developments result in less additional driving. The cost of the road system increases as we add vehicle miles.

Using Florida’s Charlotte County as an example, a 2009 report from the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida showed that mobility fees based on vehicle mileage for building a single-family residence in an urban area would be 55 percent lower than existing fees, while those in rural areas would rise as much as 45 percent.

The hope is the shift will keep road maintenance costs from spiraling further out of hand—and limit sprawl to boot.

I have written about this approach from time to time over the last 15 years. I included the idea in the unsolicited brief I submitted to the city’s recent effort to come up with a strategic economic plan. Unfortunately I didn’t have a catchy name for the approach. Mobility Fees! Say it with me …..

The Florida idea seems to be focused only on new developments, however.  It seems to me that all property taxes should include a mobility fee. The City government pays to build and maintain roads. It should collect a road fee. Setting up toll booths makes no sense because they slow traffic and cost money to run. A tax on property based on the traffic each property generates does not slow traffic and is very cheap to run.

It is very hard to measure traffic generation for each property of course. Average traffic generation is very easy to get. The City’s transportation plan already uses this kind of data. Some people will worry about households without cars and people who drive less paying more than their share if we use averages. It is a reasonable concern at first blush, but we already use averages for almoslead_larget every other city service, from roads to libraries. This approach simply improves the averages, so that people in denser areas don’t subsidize roads for the suburbanites. And, when a property sells, the best estimate of the mobility cost is just the local average.

We really a study to find the ideal mobility charges for properties in the City of Greater Sudbury. With the study we could create a fairer tax system and a city that is cheaper to run.

Or we could all move to Florida for a fairer property tax and enjoy watching sea level rise.

By the way, even though we are talking about local taxes, and the whole issue is a provincial responsibility, there is a role for the federal government in funding the studies. Research can be shared by the whole country, so it does not make sense for Sudbury or even Ontario to pay the whole cost.

This is a general principle: the Federal government has an important role in providing research for local governments, as well as industries, because knowledge production benefits the whole country.

Please pass this link on to the Mayor and your city counselor.



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