Taxing the Other Guy

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Matt Yglesias notes that commuters in DC are split pretty evenly between drivers and transit users:

This means that something like higher taxes on downtown parking garages would generate lots of revenue from non-residents without disadvantaging the majority of DC residents. The revenue could then be used to reduce the district’s sales tax or increase the personal exemption of the DC income tax. Not only would that be good tax policy, it would shift the balance of power in the future further in the direction of rolling back car-subsidization policies.

Italics mine. I don’t really have an opinion on higher parking taxes. It’s probably a good idea, just the same as taxes on gasoline or carbon emissions would be a good idea. Almost anything that cuts down on driving is a good idea.

But I’m curious: is it my imagination, or have we seen a recent wavelet of cities and states trying to figure out ingenious ways to tax nonresidents more stiffly? Commuter taxes are one way, higher hotel taxes are another, fees on sporting event tickets and jacked up highway tolls are yet others. So two questions. First, is this sort of thing really becoming more popular, or have I just happened to notice it more over the past couple of years? Second, is it a good idea? Are nonresidents really free riders on urban awesomeness who aren’t paying their fair share, or does this kind of thing run the risk of spiraling into a morass of competitive taxes that will end up hurting everyone? Just wondering.

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