hearts and minds

August 6, 2006

Saving a Buck on Tolls and Taxes

How come are there freeways in Wisconsin, and tollways in Illinois? Anytime I go down to Chicago or beyond, as soon as I get south of the border I get dinged six bits. Coming back, I get held up again right before I cross back into the land of freeways. Any ideas Sid, what’s the reason for this?

“You tell me. I know from nothing about politics. It seems like Illinois is quick to grab a hunk of toll change from us northern foreigners whenever we head their way. But whenever Illinois folks come to Wisconsin, they get a free ride on the interstate through Wisconsin. Puts me in mind of the garbage deal we got. All residents of Wisconsin are required by state law to recycle our garbage to save valuable landfill space. Meanwhile, un-recycled garbage is hauled from Illinois to Wisconsin using up the space we’re saving by our good green recycling. Makes me feel like we’re chumps.”

You’re changing the subject on me, Sid. I might as well leave off grousing about the Illinois tolls and just be glad we don’t have tolls here at home. Can’t do anything about it anyway.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff, Spike. Better for your digestion and your disposition. But I got a tip for you, if you wanna save that buck and a half, round trip. When you get to the border, get off on US 41 rather than staying on I 94. Go south on 41 for about seven miles to the stop-&-go light at a Y intersection with State Hwy 21, known there as Riverside Road. Bear right and follow Hwy 21 south 1 mile to Hwy 132. Turn right and go 1 1/2 miles and hop back on I 94. It’s a slightly shorter distance, and you’ll bypass the toll takers just south of the border. It’s a good place to get a break from the interstate blandway scenery, with those boring USDOT Green highway signs. Check out the cheaper gas, restored Des Plaines wetland and quaint businesses for local color. Coming back, just get off the tollway on 132 and retrace your steps.”

Cheap gas, and save a buck and a half on round trip tolls. That’s pretty slick, Sid. I always learn something when you give me an earful.

“Well, maybe you can repay me with an education (since you’re clean out of beer). What the heck are all these designer assault vehicles doing prowling the roads between the estate subdivisions, the office parks and the malls where our farms used to be? What’s the idea of marketing luxury trucks with headlights and bumpers as high as my head and my rear view mirror? Are these people getting prepared for a terrorist invasion coming down the Al-Can Highway, or are they just hunkering down for a civil war?”

I can answer that, Sid. You see, back in the 80’s, during the Reagan administration and its voodoo ‘trickle down’ economics, there was a tax break started for people who owned a business that allowed them to fully deduct the cost of a vehicle the same year they bought it, without depreciating it over a number of years, provided it was rated over 6000 lbs gross. But there was a $25,000 cap on this same year deduction per vehicle. Last year the Bush administration decided that cap was too small and increased it to $100,000 per vehicle. (None of this applies if you’re just working for wages, of course. And the same year tax deduction only applies to big rigs.) So, if you’re in the market for a new car, Sid, and you’ve got a business you can charge it to, and your accountant says it’s a good idea for you to deduct the whole thing the same year you buy it, well then, check the sticker for its GVW rating before you buy.

It’s called the SUV loophole. It’s a pretty strong incentive to buy one of those 8 MPG monsters when a sedan or compact pickup would do nicely. It’s a tax policy that, along with the exemption of SUV’s from the proven effective CAFÉ auto fuel efficiency standards, helps ensure our continued dependence on foreign oil supplies, and our continued excessive contribution to global warming and air pollution.

“A hundred grand write-off per vehicle you say? For anyone filling out a schedule C if they’ve got money to burn? I guess you can pack in some pretty fancy deductible luxury options for that. But I think the wife and I’ll keep driving the old Taurus to work. Thanks, but no thanks for the tip. And after I just saved you a buck and a half on your next trip south.”

I mean well, Sid. And remember, you asked me.

February 5, 2004

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