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Old Car Tax crosses line from bad to ridiculous

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Levying a $1,000 surcharge on cars older than 20 years makes no sense

Wait, did I read that right? They want to introduce a bill that does what? Seriously?

The Oregon Legislature convened for its five-month session nearly two weeks ago, and as a result the floodgates have opened with lawmakers introducing bills left and right – partisan pun intended. Some will survive and become law, some will undoubtedly spawn political battle in Salem and perhaps play out in a future election. But many will die in committee as legislators read them, scratch their heads and wonder if the people who introduced them were actually serious with their intentions.

Such is the case with a House Bill 2877, a bill that emerged from the House Revenue Committee. Already coined the Old Cars Tax in the media, the "impact tax" would levy a $1,000 surcharge on vehicles more than 20 years old that the owner would have to pay every five years. Don't worry, antique cars are exempt.

The tax revenue would be collected by the Oregon Department of Transportation, presumably to help them maintain the state highway system. But if you are unable to pay on time, the bill gives ODOT the authority to penalize the owner with additional fees, interest and collection charges.

The eternal optimist might look at this bill and think that the lawmakers involved want to give ODOT another revenue stream with which to care for the state transportation system. Perhaps older cars prompt more wear and tear on the road. That is about all there is to explain this idea, right?

But we suspect most people view this the same way that Rep. Mike McLane does. He didn't hesitate to articulate his thoughts with a statement issued shortly after news of the bill went public.

"The used car tax proposal is pathetic," he wrote in a recent statement. "Only out-of-touch liberals could have come up with an idea this dumb, which would hurt seniors, students and working families."

He didn't exactly mince words, nor should he. And thankfully he wasn't the only one who felt this way. House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Portland Democrat, told TV news outlets in her area that she had nothing to do with the bill and that it was essentially dead on arrival.

This is good to hear, but it does leave one to wonder how such ideas, and ones that are perhaps less egregious and ridiculous, ever see the light of day. We hope that as this session goes on, common sense and the needs of Oregonians statewide — not just in urban communities — win the day. Too often it seems that legislators come up with ideas that benefit the state coffers and sound good in a vacuum, but fail to work in places where lifestyles are different.

The mileage tax comes to mind, a proposal that might work in urban settings where actual miles traveled for daily work and errands pales in comparison to the miles driven on a regular basis by ranchers in remote communities like Paulina.

We therefore urge legislators to listen to their peers as they come up with new ideas for raising money and hope they avoid proposals that are impractical — or in some cases like the Old Car Tax — ridiculous.