Friday, March 13, 2009

A stupid decision

One of Labour's real achievements in office was the regional petrol tax. Ostensibly sold as a transport policy, aimed at giving regional authorities an income stream to fund their own transport projects, it is also a de-facto environmental policy. Firstly, because most of those projects are public transport: rail electrification in Auckland, upgrading the Johnsonville line and buying new trains in Wellington. And secondly, because it acts as a de-facto carbon tax, at up to triple the rate the 2002 carbon tax was proposed at, and with a high degree of revenue recycling to boot. In addition to that, it was fair; it made it clear that if Aucklanders wanted more roads (or trains), they could bloody well pay for them themselves, rather than sticking their hand out to the government - and hence people in Southland - to do so.

Good environmental outcomes, local democratic control, fairness and subsidiarity - it was a good policy. So naturally, National wants to get rid of it. Why? Because they're concerned about the effect on petrol prices. I guess that $30,000 from the Road Transport Forum was money well spent, then.

This decision is going to have consequences - and not just for the environment. Both Auckland and Wellington regional councils, for example, have already committed to spending the money they expected to get; they've signed contracts, and have trains arriving. The money will have to be found from somewhere, and that almost certainly means general taxation. Which means that something else is going to have to be cut, or the money will have to be borrowed. Either way, it also means that the rest of the country will once again be paying for Auckland's infrastructure. I wonder how National's farmer supporters in rural podunk feel about that?