I have a confession to make: I have never paid a single toll on the Will Rogers Turnpike. Or the H.E. Bailey Turnpike, for that matter. No, I am not a scofflaw. So far I have successfully avoided motoring in the grand state of Oklahoma. Drivers who never use toll roads are exempt from paying tolls.
Of course, most traffic moves along public highways. I remember driving behind an 18-wheeler in Michigan that proudly displayed a sign: This vehicle pays $5,635 per year in highway taxes. I mentioned this to a senior project engineer with the Michigan Highway Department.
"Shouldn't brag about," he said, "the truth is, a semi like that does 16,000 (yes, that's sixteen thousand) times more damage to the road-bed than any passenger automobile."
So I did the math. Considering what I had to pay in use taxes for my car, that truck should have paid $560,000 per year. That truck was making money at my expense.
When we are told that the top 1 percent of U.S. taxpayers pay more taxes than the bottom 40 percent who pay nothing in income taxes, this is supposed to mean that the wealthy are done a huge unfairness. I wonder where people who make this startling statement studied arithmetic. Since the top 1 percent earns about 39 percent of all income in this nation, what is so burdensome about their tax load?
One is reminded of Ambrose Bierce's sardonic observation, "You can be certain that if the burdens of the rich were so great they would compel the poor to bear them."
There is a good reason why Warren Buffett says he should pay a larger percentage of his income in taxes than his secretary: Buffett knows he benefits from our economic system to a much larger extent than his secretary.
If I operated a trucking firm in Oklahoma and had a hundred rigs running the toll roads every day, I would expect to pay millions in tolls. And I should not expect that my huge use of the toll roads would result in a reduced per unit usage rate. A trucker depends on good roads to reduce delivery times. Time is money. Less time on the road means more money in the bank. The occasional motorist, despite the convenience of excellent roads, does not significantly benefit from reducing his travel time by 30 percent. Persons who make billions from our economic highway should expect to pay a premium for the benefit.
There is one other consideration: What happens after one has earned billions? Does one have a strong incentive to maintain a society that protects one's wealth? I remember a woman who came to visit my sister. She was driving an expensive BMW. When she left I said to my sister, "Well, it must be nice!" My sister replied, "Yes, but that BMW is all she has." It was not always that way.
Her husband was a big-wig in the Somoza regime of Nicaragua. They lived in a $5 million mansion with five servants at their beck and call. One afternoon her husband called, "Take the car and drive to the U.S." She beat it to the border mere minutes before it was sealed. He got a job as an adjunct at Michigan State University, and she was selling ladies' dresses. All that wealth they had achieved they had to leave because of political upheaval. Considering what they lost, maybe paying 50 to 60 percent of their income in taxes would have been a bargain.
There is no reason that the U.S. public expenditures are about 23 percent of the Gross National Product and taxes are about 19 percent of GDP. This discrepancy is the result of some persons making extensive use of our economic tollway and creating rules which permit them to avoid paying a fair amount for the benefit they receive. The distribution of wealth in the United States is the most disproportionate among the developed economies of the world. The gap continues to widen.
The dead-beats must either begin to pay their fair share or the tollway will fall into disrepair. If the system collapses, the ones who used the tollway the most and thus benefited most from that use will be the ones who will lose the most. The ones who could never afford a car, much less take a trip on the tollway, will be largely unaffected from economic collapse because their lives have always been collapsed.
C.D. Chamberlain lives in Spring Hill.