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  • Last modified 13 days ago (Jan. 18, 2023)

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Driving up the cost of government

It’s nowhere near April 15, but the IRS already is sticking it to us on taxes — not income taxes, but property taxes, encouraging local governments to spend way too much reimbursing employees for miles they drive for work in vehicles they own.

For years, everyone from economists to AAA has criticized the reimbursement formula, noting that it is heavily influenced by initial depreciation of newly purchased cars — something that really doesn’t apply when reimbursing government workers for miles they drive in cars they normally would use for other purposes. Most of the depreciation would happen regardless of whether they drove their cars for work.

The rate originally was created as an alternative to filling out elaborate depreciation schedules for businesses purchasing new vehicles exclusively for business purposes. Somehow, it got twisted into a rate to pay people for occasionally using vehicles they already own and drive for other purposes.

If the rate is accurate, why do car rental firms charge much less than that when they rent you a car? Are they all intentionally going broke?

The IRS also calculates a rate to be paid to disabled veterans for driving to and from medical treatment at VA hospitals and clinics. That rate is about a third what the other rate is.

If the other rate is so accurate, that means we as a nation are gypping veterans who sacrificed for our country while rewarding bureaucrats who prefer their own cars instead of using motor pool vehicles.

Mileage reimbursement is a tiny part of any governmental budget, of course. A trip to and from Wichita, under the new IRS rate, would net a government employee $73.36. Does it cost you that much to drive there? If so, are the few pennies you save by buying some consumer product out of town really worth it?

Truth is, this is just one of many ways in which government spending could be tightened. Eliminating a few of the burgeoning holidays — and not allowing employees to “trade” a federal holiday for a personal day off at some other time — is another.

Bringing government spending under control means worrying about the nickels and dimes as well as the billions. As the late William Proxmire once said, “A million here, a million there, and pretty soon it adds up to real money.”

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Jan. 18, 2023

 

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