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Bay Area tax on miles traveled will place burden on northern SJ Valley
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Beware of unintended consequences.

The Association of Bay Area Governments has voted to study a plan that could hit anyone who resides in the nine-county Bay area with a 10-cents-per-mile driven tax.

The goal for such a tax is to generate money for roads and public transit while reducing traffic and pollution from car emissions. Dubbed a "Vehicle Miles Traveled Tax," it would require motorists to install a GPS-like odometer on their vehicles that would generate monthly tax bills. This is on top of gas taxes and various Bay area half cent to full cent transit sales taxes that are all supposed to cover the cost of roads and public transit.

Policy wonks believe the earliest such a tax could be imposed place is in about 10 years. It would impact those living in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Solano counties. No big deal, you might say, as the list does not include Stanislaus County.

That's where unintended consequences - the byproducts of virtually every bright idea dreamed up by bureaucrats - kicks in.

There are a lot of Bay area commuters already living in the San Joaquin Valley. And until the housing bubble burst, this area was a top choice for those trying to flee the high cost of Bay area living.

There are many in the South Bay and East Bay who drive up to 50 miles one way to work. A dime tax would translate into $10 a day or $50 a week in added commute cost.

Escaping the high cost of the Bay area by crossing the Altamont Pass daily would become even more enticing for many. One might argue that the added cost of fuel and wear and tear on a vehicle might not be worth avoiding the vehicle miles traveled tax. True, but this is California. Most people use their car for more than just work. They go to soccer practice, the supermarket, the movies, clothes shopping - you get the picture. That $50 a week could easily become $70 or more a week.

Combine the psychology of that cost with the fact housing prices will always be lower on this side of the Altamont Pass and you've set the stage to increase congestion even more on Bay area freeways and transit systems. It will also mess up air quality even more by encouraging people to commute from farther away to save money on not just vehicle miles traveled taxes but housing costs as well.

By increasing the appeal of commuting east, the Council of Bay Area Governments will continue to inflict damage on the Valley. The reason why this region had a housing growth that was even more super heated than much of the nation was because when it comes to meeting the state's affordable housing mandate Bay area cities shirked their responsibility.

By failing to encourage working class housing that meant Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties became the Bay area's affordable housing solution by default. That has helped to push people farther and father away from jobs so they could afford housing and raise families.

Now the Bay area is studying a tax that promises to accelerate long distance Bay area commuting as the economy picks up.

It gets worse. That in turn will drive housing prices up even more in the Northern San Joaquin Valley as the economy picks up steam. That will then make housing more expensive here forcing more and more people who work here to move north, south or east in search of affordable housing. It will then make traffic congestion and air quality worse in the Valley.

In the end, the vehicle miles traveled tax could make things worse not just for the Bay Area but also the Valley.

No wonder Ronald Reagan said the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.