Sunday, March 24, 2024

The Freedom Caucus Doesn’t Understand that the Mileage-Based Road Fee is “PRO-Freedom,” Not the Opposite 

The concept of a mileage-based road fee continues to get my support and continues to be attacked by people who, in my opinion, either do not understand how it works or who haven’t bothered to dig into the details rather than offering coined phrases invented by the anti-tax lobbyists. I have been following and commenting on this issue for many years in posts such as Tax Meets Technology on the Road, Mileage-Based Road Fees, Again, Mileage-Based Road Fees, Yet Again, Change, Tax, Mileage-Based Road Fees, and Secrecy, Pennsylvania State Gasoline Tax Increase: The Last Hurrah?, Making Progress with Mileage-Based Road Fees, Mileage-Based Road Fees Gain More Traction, Looking More Closely at Mileage-Based Road Fees, The Mileage-Based Road Fee Lives On, Is the Mileage-Based Road Fee So Terrible?, Defending the Mileage-Based Road Fee, Liquid Fuels Tax Increases on the Table, Searching For What Already Has Been Found, Tax Style, Highways Are Not Free, Mileage-Based Road Fees: Privatization and Privacy, Is the Mileage-Based Road Fee a Threat to Privacy?, So Who Should Pay for Roads?, Between Theory and Reality is the (Tax) Test, Mileage-Based Road Fee Inching Ahead, Rebutting Arguments Against Mileage-Based Road Fees, On the Mileage-Based Road Fee Highway: Young at (Tax) Heart?, To Test The Mileage-Based Road Fee, There Needs to Be a Test, What Sort of Tax or Fee Will Hawaii Use to Fix Its Highways?, And Now It’s California Facing the Road Funding Tax Issues, If Users Don’t Pay, Who Should?, Taking Responsibility for Funding Highways, Should Tax Increases Reflect Populist Sentiment?, When It Comes to the Mileage-Based Road Fee, Try It, You’ll Like It, Mileage-Based Road Fees: A Positive Trend?, Understanding the Mileage-Based Road Fee, Tax Opposition: A Costly Road to Follow, Progress on the Mileage-Based Road Fee Front?, Mileage-Based Road Fee Enters Illinois Gubernatorial Campaign, Is a User-Fee-Based System Incompatible With Progressive Income Taxation?. Will Private Ownership of Public Necessities Work?, Revenue Problems With A User Fee Solution Crying for Attention, Plans for Mileage-Based Road Fees Continue to Grow, Getting Technical With the Mileage-Based Road Fee, Once Again, Rebutting Arguments Against Mileage-Based Road Fees, Getting to the Mileage-Based Road Fee in Tiny Steps, Proposal for a Tyre Tax to Replace Fuel Taxes Needs to be Deflated, A Much Bigger Forward-Moving Step for the Mileage-Based Road Fee, Another Example of a Problem That the Mileage-Based Road Fee Can Solve, Some Observations on Recent Articles Addressing the Mileage-Based Road Fee, Mileage-Based Road Fee Meets Interstate Travel, If Not a Gasoline Tax, and Not a Mileage-Based Road Fee, Then What?>, Try It, You Might Like It (The Mileage-Based Road Fee, That Is) , The Mileage-Based Road Fee Is Superior to This Proposed “Commercial Activity Surcharge”, The Mileage-Based Road Fee Is Also Superior to This Proposed “Package Tax” or “Package Fee”, Why Delay A Mileage-Based Road Fee Until Existing Fuel Tax Amounts Are Posted at Fuel Pumps?, Using General Funds to Finance Transportation Infrastructure Not a Viable Solution, In Praise of the Mileage-Base Road Fee, What Appears to Be Criticism of the Mileage-Based Road Fee Isn’t, Though It Is a Criticism of How Congress Functions, Ignorance and Propaganda, A New Twist to the Mileage-Based Road Fee, The Mileage-Based Road Fee: Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Than the Alternatives, Some Updates on the Mileage-Based Road Fee, How to Pay for Street Reconstruction, Stop the "Stop EV Freeloading Act" Because The Mileage-Based Road Fee Is a Much Better Way to Go, Why Is Road Repair and Maintenance Funding So Difficult for Public Officials to Figure Out?, and Should (Will) Implementing the Mileage-Based Road Fee Cause Privatization of Highway Infrastructure?

Thanks to Reader Morris, I have now learned that Freedom Caucus members in Arizona are trying to prohibit mileage-based road fees. For the moment, the good news is that their efforts have been, at least temporarily, blocked. The bad news is that they intend to reintroduce the bill, and I suspect they will continue pounding this agenda item until the populace acquires sufficient understand of mileage-based road fees and makes it clear that the prohibition attempt is pointless.

Interestingly, it was a Republican whose opposition to the Freedom Caucus effort that caused the legislation containing the prohibition to stall. The Republican who refused to go along with the Freedom Caucus proposition explained that he tried to get the text of the legislation changed to preclude what he saw as “multiple unintended consequences,” but was “met with flat-out refusal.” That’s no surprise, is it?

The proposed legislation “would ban government entities from tracking vehicle miles traveled by its citizens, bar taxes based on miles traveled and would stop government bodies from attempting to limit vehicle miles traveled in any way.” Supporters “described the freedom to travel by motor vehicle as fundamentally American.” One Republican explained, “Getting behind the driving wheels of our cars and driving without the burden of calculating a mile cost truly feels like freedom, because it is freedom,” and that there is a “looming threat to limit how much people drive.”

What these Freedom Caucus zealots fail to understand are the facts underlying the need for mileage-based road fees and how those fees fit into existing conditions. Arizona drivers already pay for the miles they travel, through an 18-cent-per-gallon fuel tax, which is, in effect, a tax on miles driven though it varies from driver to driver based on the fuel efficiency of the vehicle. Opponents of the mileage-based road fee don’t understand this, mostly because they are peppered with misinformation. Arizona, like other states and the federal government, faces decreased collections from fuel taxes because of fuel efficiency gains and increasing numbers of electric vehicles on the roads. The mileage-based road fee rebalances the burden of paying for necessary highway, bridge, and tunnel maintenance and repairs.

The Freedom Caucus either ignores or is unaware of Arizona Administrative Code section 18-2-1011, which provides

Ariz. Admin. Code § 18-2-1011
A. The Department shall provide a vehicle inspected at a state station with a uniquely numbered vehicle inspection report of a design approved by the Director that contains, at a minimum, the following information, as applicable to the tests required for the vehicle under R18-2-1006:
            * * * * *             7. Odometer reading ;
Though I don’t know if every state has this requirement, I do know that Pennsylvania has the same requirement. So much for boo-hooing about the state knowing how many miles a vehicle has been driven. It is also important to note that the mileage-based road fee, like the state vehicle inspection requirement, reflects how many miles a vehicle is driven and not how many miles any specific driver has driven, a distinction that seems to have eluded the thinking process of the Freedom Caucus.

When I hear these claims about “freedom” being tossed about whenever any proposal that is designed for the betterment of society and the people generally is put forth, I cannot help but think of what many parents hear from their adolescent children, what most middle and high school teachers hear from their students, and what police, prosecutors, and judges hear from law-breakers: “It’s a free country, I can do what I want,” “You are taking away my freedom,” and similar exaggerated uses of the word “freedom” and the concept it represents. To see this same abuse of the word and concept by people entrusted with doing what is best for society is beyond disappointing.

Nothing in the mileage-based road fee imposes a limit on how many miles a vehicle can be driven. Nothing in the mileage-based road fee imposes a limit on how many miles a person can drive in a year. The mileage-based road fee is not, as one of the supporters of prohibiting the fees claims, “anti-freedom.” If anything, it is “pro freedom,” because by rebalancing the burdens of paying for highway, bridge, and tunnel maintenance and repairs, it ensures that drivers will be free to travel without the fear of tire blowouts, broken suspensions, interrupted trips, injuries, and deaths that would become even more common in the absence of appropriate progression into the twenty-first century.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

The Misinterpretation and Misrepresentation of Economic Information 

It indeed is worrisome that misinformation has infected society. Worse, the ability to critically analyze information is headed into extinction. A recent example is the claim that because corporations are closing stores the economy is in shambles.

Let’s first look at retail store closings. Why do stores close? They close for a variety of reasons.

One significant cause is the transfer of shopping from retail store browsing and purchasing to online browsing and purchasing. That doesn’t mean the economy is slowing down or speeding up. It simply means that the marketplace has been moving. As older generations accustomed to in-person shopping depart this life and younger generations who are growing up in an online world turn to online shopping, the trend will continue.

Another significant cause is relocation of retail outlets. When people move from one area to another, retailers will follow. For example, when I saw a commentary claiming that Outback’s decision to close stores was due to “Bidenomics,” I did what too many people don’t do. Perhaps it is curiosity, but perhaps it also involves verification preferences. According to a spokesperson for Outback, as reported in this this report, while Outback is closing 41 stores it is opening 40 to 45 replacements. The spokesperson explained, “a variety of factors resulted in the decision, including sales and traffic-trade areas, which means how close customers live to a business location and how far they might travel to patronize it.” Similar closings and new openings also are happening with other retailers. Those who try to score debate points by taking information out of context or omitting all of the facts are, unfortunately, adept at swaying the opinions of those who don’t make any effort to thing through the information being highlighted.

Another cause, perhaps not as significant, is the closing of a store so that it can be renovated or upgraded to keep pace with societal expectation and demands in the in-person shopping environment. When the renovation is a gut-and-rebuild event, the closing appears to be permanent because of the length of time the project requires. I’ve yet to see a meme claiming that the opening or re-opening of a store is a manifestation of a healthy economy. It’s so much easier to criticize than to praise.

Another cause is the cyclical nature of certain sectors of the economy. For decades restaurants have closed and new ones have opened. Why? Sometimes the restaurant is dependent on a particular ownership. But often, people simply get bored or dissatisfied and, as is the case with fashion, music, art, and other cultural manifestations, eagerly turn to whatever is or appears to be new. That pattern doesn’t mean the economy is good, bad, or indifferent.

Another cause, the significance of which is debatable, is the closing of stores because of shoplifting and crime. Yes, this is happening, but only in certain places and not as a widespread national economic collapse. Is this a problem? Yes, of course. Can it be fixed? Yes. Are those responsible for curtailing shoplifting and crime doing their job? No. Is it their fault? In some instances, yes, but in many instances, they have been handcuffed by a variety of well-intended theoretical but pragmatically unworkable attempts to deal with crime in ways that don’t work.

Let’s put aside the “sky is falling” panic fueled by misinformation and incomplete or out-of-context reports and look at the economy. Is the economy a mess? That question masks two questions, namely, how is the economy now, and how is it expected to be in the future. Much like the same two questions concerning a person’s health, the first question can be answered by looking at existing conditions, whereas the second question involves the dangerous exercise of predicting the future and generates answers that are clouded by risks, probabilities, and generalities. I’m not about to join the seers and prophets who think they know what the economy will do, for the simple reason that I don’t know what the economy will do and have no desire to pile onto the growing mass of hedged and conditional forecasts.

What is the current state of the economy? What measure should be used? One can look at gross domestic product, employment, inflation, and consumer confidence, to mention four that get a lot of attention.

Fourth quarter 2023 GDP, the latest for which there is data, increased at an annual rate of 3.3 percent. The forecasts had been for a lower increase. By this measure, the economy is doing well.

When it comes to employment, again the economy performed better than what was predicted. In January, more than 350,000 jobs were added. During 2023, about three million jobs were created. The unemployment rate was 3.7 percent, below 4 percent for 25 months in a row. When was the last time that happened? In the 1960s. An unemployment rate between 3 and 5 percent indicates that the economy is at or near capacity. In other words, it is doing very well. Another employment measure is wages. Average hourly earnings increased from December to January, and increased 4.5 percent over the past year.

Inflation, which was terrible a few years ago, has cooled to 3.4 percent for 2023. It increased 0.3 percent in January, equivalent to an annual rate a bit higher than the 2023 rate, but still within the range of what is acceptable for a strong economy.

Consumer confidence for 2023, as measured by retail sales, increased by almost 5 percent. Disposable income increased more than 4 percent. Those are not signs of a sick economy.

So why do so many people think that the economy is a mess? In a few instances it’s a person’s reaction to their own experience, though too often a person’s economic situation isn’t entirely the fault of everyone but the person, and the person’s own choices surely affect their economic experience. The primary reason so many people are perceiving the economy as in a condition inconsistent with reality is the effectiveness of propaganda. Propaganda works best when it isn’t analyzed and challenged. It works best when it is gobbled up because it resonates with emotional predisposition, thus bypassing the prefrontal cortex. Add to this the woeful state of education in this country and a large segment of the population is a ready market for those who want to hide reality and create an environment of falsity. Where is this propaganda sourced? Much of it arrives from overseas, from countries that include admitted enemies and some countries that pretend to be friendly, because it benefits these nations if the United States is fragmented by creating a population segment that believes in the falsity. There also is a domestic source that puts political gain above national economic health, some of whom are fearful of the nation learning that supply-side, trickle-down economic nonsense shows its falsity when compared to a more sensible management of the economy.

Resisting the siren call of propaganda, misinformation, and misrepresentation is difficult. If it doesn’t happen, the false reality will become true, and the unpleasantness of that sort of environment will generate an understanding that comes too late to do anything about it.

Sunday, March 03, 2024

The Genealogy of My House 

Readers of MauledAgain know that one of my “hobbies,” surely overshadowing all the others, is genealogy. Specifically, genealogy of people and their families. There also are house and property genealogies. Though I’ve known about them, I have never tried to research the genealogy of a house.

Until now.

On Friday, the weekly Delaware County (Pennsylvania) Council Public Relations newsletter arrived with an item explaining that it had upgraded its online property records search engine. The website permits a person to deeds, mortgages, and other documents online rather than making a trip to the courthouse in Media.

I knew I purchased my house from John and Elise Tucci. John was a Villanova Law student a year or two ahead of me. He also was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.

I knew the Tuccis bought the house from Ronald E and Iris D Frank, because shortly after moving in a postcard arrived from Japan from a young woman seeking to reconnect with a childhood pen pal who was one of the Franks’ daughters. Ron Frank was on the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School when I was a student there, and by the time I spoke with him about the postcard he had taken a faculty position at Emory University.

Until Friday I had not tried to identify the person or persons who sold the house to the Franks? Once I accessed the deed that conveyed the property to them, I learned that the house was sold to them in 1965 by William Laurens Van Alen III and his wife Sydney Purviance Van Alen. So much for the realtor websites that state that the house was built in 1968.

Of course, I was curious about the Van Alens, so I did a bit of research. I discovered that William Laurens Van Alen III also was a Villanova Law graduate, in the class of 1962. In the yearbook (also online) his address was the same as mine now is: 219 Comrie Drive. I learned that like me, John Tucci, and others, he attended the University of Pennsylvania before entering Villanova Law. He then clerked for Chief Justice Bell of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, practice law, and was a sportsman with championships in lawn tennis, court tennis, and golf. I became curious, sidetracked myself into exploring the Van Alen family, and learned he died in 2010 at his residence in Newtown Square, the nearby town where I grew up. His mother was the daughter of Atwater Kent, pioneer radio manufacturer, and a descendant of the Brinton family of Chester County, some members of which married into the Maule family (or is it the other way around?). His father was a well-known Philadelphia architect, attended the University of Pennsylvania, served on the boards of many Philadelphia institutions, and was appointed to the National Council of the Arts.

One last point before getting back to the house. William Laurens Van Alen III, who sold the house to the Franks, married twice. His second wife’s family name is the same as the family name of the husband of one of my nieces. So there’s another side track to explore.

So who sold the house to the Van Alens? They purchased it from the builder, Villanova Construction Company, owned at the time of the deed by William McCue, the surviving owner of the company. The house was built after the subdivision of a larger parcel of land purchased by the Villanova Construction Company from Howard F. and Charlotte Comrie.

And that answered a question that had been batted around for many years. Why Comrie Drive? I knew there was a town in Scotland with the name Comrie. What was the connection? There was the answer. It was named after Howard and Charlotte. Did they require that as a condition of the sale? I don’t know. So, off I went to see if my hunch was correct. It was. Howard Comrie’s great great grandfather was born in Comrie, Perthshire, Scotland and carried the surname Comrie. No, I didn’t try to trace back his ancestry to see if it connected with the Maule family of Panmure, Scotland.

How did Howard and Charlotte Comrie acquire the larger parcel of property? They purchased it from a trust company who held the property on behalf of Alice Rawle Geyerlin, who, if I am properly reading the deed handwriting acquired part of it from Cornelia L. Ewing and part from Charles Quigley.

Then I encountered a problem. The deed books changed from numbers to a combination of letters and numbers. But the website refused to accept letters as part of the book number. There is another path I can follow when I get the time. In her wonderful book, “Radnor: A Rare and Pleasing Thing,” the late Katharine Hewitt Cummin, a member of the Radnor Historical Society, traced the property history of each parcel in the township as defined for purposes of the 1798 federal window tax (that eventually did not get collected). I should be able to trace the property ownership back through the deeds that she researched.

Property genealogies have been done for numerous properties. What interested me was not the fact that the property ownership can be traced, as that is true of all the properties in this part of the country. It’s the connections between the owners of the house and myself. What are the odds that three of the four owners would be Villanova Law graduates? What are the odds that all four would either be graduates of or on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania? And then there are the court tennis connections but I’ll leave that for another time. And somehow the word tax found its way into this post. Not quite a big surprise.

In a time that history will record as having been flooded with division and divisiveness, it’s nice to find yet another example of connections.

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