Editor’s note: My paycheck wake-up call

January 20, 2013

Like a lot of people, I got a little surprise when I received my paycheck recently. Where did the money go?

All those abstract debates about fiscal cliffs and debt ceilings suddenly did not seem so abstract any more.

The expiration of a payroll tax holiday served as a wake-up call. We can debate endlessly whether to increase income taxes on this group or that, but there are plenty of other fees and levies that can affect our bottom line.

Our policymakers now have their hands on the levers and dials of tax policy, and it is not always easy to figure out the consequences.

Take the discussion now under way in Richmond, where the governor wants to eliminate the state gas tax and raise sales taxes to pay for road and transit improvements.

Now gas is something I consume every day; who doesn’t compare the difference in pennies per gallon from one station to the next? The cost of fuel has a way of influencing the cost of a lot of things. But so does the sales tax.

I assume what people save at the pump they’ll spend in the stores.

There are other considerations, of course. Higher gas taxes create an incentive for people to drive hybrids, ride bikes or use mass transit. They force the people who use the roads to pay more for their upkeep.

Virginia’s debate is mostly an academic one for me. As a driver from Maryland, I might not mind that trek to Tysons Corner if I knew I could fill up my car more cheaply in Virginia. (Especially if my governor succeeds in his plan to raise gas taxes.)

But no matter the outcome, I doubt I’ll come out ahead.

The money to pay back all the nation has borrowed has to come from somewhere, and it won’t be long before the budget fights at the state and federal level begin to bite one place or another.

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.
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