What are the legitimate functions of good government? James Madison said they are “to protect property of every sort.”
“The rights of persons and the rights of property are the objects for the protection of which government was instituted,” he said in an 1829 address to the Virginia Convention.
Some lawmakers in Sacramento, however, have other ideas. They believe government is an instrument they are free to use to steer the citizenry toward their preferences. A recent example of this overbearing behavior is a bill that would increase the incentives for car buyers to purchase electric plug-in vehicles or plug-in hybrids.
Because legislators think they know better than your local car dealer what you should drive.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Assembly Bill 1184, introduced by Assemblyman Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat, “would devote $3 billion to clean car incentives.” The amount of the rebates buyers will receive, however, has yet to be determined. But Sen. Andy Vidak, a Republican from Hanford who voted against the bill in committee, believes they will be “up to $30,000 to $40,000.”
Four years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown said the state had to have 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025. However, there is actually no such automobile on the road today unless it’s pedal-driven. Even the greenest of cars have to burn fossil fuels at some point.
Listening to their rhetoric, it seems that lawmakers are convinced they know what’s best in pursuing these bills. But the evidence says otherwise.
If it’s climate change policymakers are trying to mitigate, their gestures are useless. Nothing California does will affect the global climate.
If it’s costs they are trying to increase, well, then they’ve succeeded. Greenhouse gas emissions cuts that don’t even reach policymakers’ goals could cost the California economy $23 billion a year.
There will be added costs, as well, to forcing 1.5 million electric vehicles on the roads. Let’s look at just one example. Those cars will need to be fed an immense amount of electricity, and in anticipation of that, Pacific Gas & Electric wants to add 7,600 charging stations within its territory. The utility is proposing that the cost, an estimated $160 million, will be paid for by customers. If this seems unfair to the PG&E ratepayers who don’t own electric cars, that’s because it is.
Someone will make money, though — the companies that make electric cars. And rich buyers, who are almost exclusively the only Californians who purchase electric cars, will get a deal, as well. A recent UC Berkeley study found that 83 percent of the recipients of rebates from the state’s clean vehicle incentive program make more than $100,000 a year.
So is this why government was instituted, to give legislators the authority to shape the world as they see fit, to choose which companies win and which lose, and to subsidize the rich? No, but that’s what it’s become in California.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at Pacific Research Institute.