by E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow Greg Walcher
As appearing in the Daily Sentinel
Louisiana Sen. Russell Long famously explained how most people feel about taxes: “Don’t tax you; don’t tax me; tax that fellow behind the tree.” It was an apt description of our natural desire to make other people pay for things we want. Metaphorically, the man behind the tree is invisible, so we can in good conscience collect money from someone we don’t know — not from ourselves or our friends.
That is why local officials find it easy to levy hefty taxes on hotel rooms and rental cars — the tax is paid by visitors from elsewhere, not by constituents who vote. And it is why New York City now plans to spend billions on increased subsidies for the subway — by soaking it to people who drive cars.
The New York metropolitan area is by far the most populous in the United States, with well over 23 million residents. Because so many of the suburbs are in New Jersey and Connecticut, though, almost a third of those people do not vote in New York. And even those who do, won’t care that much — more than two-thirds of New Yorkers do not own a car. For example, Manhattan has about 3.1 million households, but only 1.4 million automobiles. Thus, far more people ride the subway than drive cars. That makes it easy, politically, to make car drivers subsidize subway riders.