Rein Lang: There is another way

Rein Lang.
Rein Lang. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The play titled "Car Tax Public Debate" by key members of the government will hardly land any major theater awards. The performance has been amateurish at best, even though the idea of launching into a passionate debate over the devil in the details to shroud the nature of the beast is shrewd at first glance, Rein Lang writes.

Empty state coffers and expenses outweighing income should prompt action. Indeed, considering Estonia's low public sector debt, we could keep borrowing for at least one more election cycle – if not more. It took friends in Greece over 20 years to bankrupt their society, while we have only been at it for a decade.

Betting on austerity seems hopeless in the current political situation, while a war of conquest and looting against one of our neighbors probably wouldn't fly either.

The only thing left to do is to squeeze the taxpayer. Makes sense, also in the form of introducing a car tax.

Glancing over the theatric nonsense of how we need to curb vehicle-related pollution, common sense tells us that moderately taxing personal vehicles might not be the worst idea in the world. However, people should be given a clear answer in terms of why we need the money.

The tax might not be unfair at all if we wanted to pay university professors on par with Viimsi schoolteachers. Instead, we hear of plans to use tax revenue to develop state-level public transport. And that gives me SERIOUS pause, not least because of the recent trouble at the national airline.

Estonia defines public transport as a public service offered by the public authority. This is further confirmed by the recent version of the Public Transport Act from 2015.

Back in the day, Justice Minister Lang urged Economy Minister Juhan Parts to consider the need for the law in the first place and whether it aids or indeed hampers the development of mobility services. I am still convinced that a vulgarly socialist approach to public transport will end up costing society an arm and a leg while thoroughly failing to ensure transport from A to B. Not to mention being convenient.

Citizens' unwavering faith in the state's ability to effectively organize passenger transport, periodicals delivery, aviation and ferry links to the islands never ceases to amaze me. In most EU Member States, the press, consumer protection organizations, political parties and the wider public would have taken the organizers of any such mess to task long ago. But our caravan keeps moving steadily on – going south.

The courts have spent years working on how Estonia's existing ferries were replaced with newer ones and the measure of "greasing" that went with it. The national airline, in which tens of millions of taxpayer euros have been poured, has fallen victim to embezzlement yet again. The mess in bus transport has reached bolshevist proportions, while the newspaper, subscribed to (and paid for!) arrives days after it is supposed to – and so what! Instead, journalists busy themselves with the comings and goings of Brigitte Susanne Hunt – well set priorities.

But what if we altered the paradigm? What about if free citizens organized their transport from A to B based on market economy? Supply coming to where there is demand. Both as concerns public transport links and ridesharing.

I also sympathize with the viewpoint according to which a person should have the freedom to decide how to get around in time and space – whether to walk or use a vehicle of some sort. This can be influenced through various policies, including taxes, in the public interest, while I would very much like for the latter to be legible and well-reasoned and the relevant policies balanced.

Unfortunately, debates over the freedom of individuals to organize their mobility are today replaced by fairy tales of how a warm in the winter and cool in summer coach stops on a person's doorstep exactly when they need it to take them to work, the shops or the movies free of charge.

Instead, the government should make sure the entire country has a sensible and well-maintained road network. That mariners would have ports and airlines enough airfields for landing and taking off. And things are not too bad in Estonia in terms of roads, ports and airfields. But why on Earth is the government trying to organize the transport of people itself, including in situations where there are no passengers?

The answer lies in ABS (administrative-bureaucratic system) logic – if the law mandates a public service, the necessary structures and jobs will be created and tenders and processes will be carried out. All of it within the confines of however much is allocated for the purpose in the budget. And there's never enough money. You can read it in the papers and see it on "Aktuaalne kaamera." And there will always be those fishing for votes by promising to up funding by leaps and bounds.

​Local governments definitely play a role in making sure people can get around. Children must be able to get to school and patients to see the doctor. But they would probably be doing a much better job without interference from the central government. Also a cheaper job as local governments would probably not build railroads in areas that only have enough people for a bus.

Constantly trying to help people cross the road even if they don't want to get to the other side is one of our major social problems today.

How to rein in the sprawling ABS and the perpetually "helpful" official? Perhaps Brigitte Susanne Hunt knows the answer.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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