Saturday, August 27, 2005

Garbage in, garbage out

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:38 PM |  

I’ve had this in the to “to post” file for a while. The news is somewhat old, but the point is always relevant -- government just can’t simply tax its way out of financial problems. Case in point -- Ramsey and Washington counties have taxed their way into a kind of black market in garbage. Excepts from the Pioneer Press
Ramsey and Washington counties on Tuesday decided to cut the "tipping fee" they charge to garbage haulers by 13 percent, in hopes of stemming a decline in trash being taken to their garbage-processing mill . . .

Last year, the mill processed about 355,000 tons of garbage, but at the rate waste is being trucked to the facility now, the annual total could dip as low as 320,000 tons this year. The counties are contractually bound to direct 280,800 tons a year to Newport but need more to bring the mill closer to breaking financially even.

They now subsidize the operation with a "county environmental charge" tax on garbage bills. The counties adopted that charge in 2002, in part because they hoped a direct tax, rather than a property-tax bill, might encourage home and business owners to throw away less.

. . . county officials and consultants believe that it may be as much as $9 per ton cheaper for haulers to take the garbage to Wisconsin and that some waste is being reclassified as demolition debris or industrial waste and disposed of elsewhere.

"It's our understanding that the tipping fee makes a difference in the utilization of that facility, and our concern is getting waste to that facility," said Ramsey County Board Chairwoman Victoria Reinhardt after the vote. . . .

None of the commissioners in St. Paul, though, believed that the discount would have much impact on the public, particularly because a small state subsidy had been phased out.

"My hunch is that it will go to the haulers, to either pay for gas or their rising costs, etc.," Commissioner Janice Rettman, of St. Paul, said of the discount. "I'm not sure it will have a corresponding reduction to residents."
So what do we have? Well first off we have the counties using tax policy to engineer what ought to be market-driven consumer behavior -- what to do with one’s garbage. They increased the “tipping fee” to raise revenue lost by encouraging people to throw away less, which drove truckers to take their garbage to Wisconsin to dump, which cost the counties the revenue they hoped to gain by raising the tipping fee. So now they cut the tipping fee (sounds a lot like lower taxes increase revenues, doesn’t it) but consumers aren’t likely to see any price reduction because the garbage-haulers will keep the cost cut to compensate for their increased costs.

Indeed, this proves definitively that in government policy as in computer technology -- garbage in, garbage out.