Calling a toll a tax - semantic warfare (POLITICS)

October 18, 2008
By Peter Samuel

Opponents of tolls often say "a toll is just a tax" or they call tolls "toll taxes". They think that they can damn the toll or the toll increase by saying it's a tax. This is stupid because a toll is not a tax, and because most people accept taxes anyway.

A tax has two major characteristics:

1. It is the government claiming a share of something of yours  - a share of your income, a share of the sale price in the store, a share of the value of your property, a share of an inheritance, and so forth. A tax is levied as a percentage of an asset or a transaction of the private sector.

2. Another characteristic of a tax is that the payer gets no specific good or service in return for the payment, just the general "services" of the government that levies it. And indeed those services of government are available to everyone regardless whether or not you pay the tax.

Therefore it is silly to call a toll a tax since (1) it has nothing to do with government getting a share and (2) you DO get a very specific service, and just that service, in return for payment - the right to use the road or bridge now.

A toll is an entry fee, a user fee, or a price for a specific service, namely admission to and use of a tolled facility.

That is true regardless of who owns or operates the toll facility, whether it is run by a government department, authority, a not-for-profit, or a for-profit.

This is true regardless of whether it makes profits, and regardless of what they are used for.

A toll road is a toll road because a toll is collected on it. Same with a toll bridge or tunnel.

None of this says anything about whether the toll is good, bad or indifferent. I agree, of course, that monopoly tolls used to make super-profits and support wasteful purposes are bad.

But they should be called bad tolls.

It just causes semantic confusion to name-call tolls as taxes. Better to say they are bad tolls and to go on to explain why they are bad. I think that is more persuasive than name-calling.

Most people dislike taxes but they regard them as a necessary evil, or as unavoidable.

Does it really damn bad tolls to have people think about them in that light?

Our recommendation to people upset with a particular toll - don't waste time name-calling and arguing semantics but enunciate and explain your opposition.

Editor TOLLROADSnews 2008-10-18


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