Accustomed to Special Privilege
Wimpy Diplomats Seek Immunity From London User Fee
A sensible environmental user fee will be applied in London next year. It is consistent with green economic policy. Although the fee should theoretically vary with the fuel-efficiency of the vehicle and the amount of time it spends in London, still the main idea is right on target.
Who's complaining? The wealthy outsiders who already enjoy many special privileges think their gas-guzzling cars should be declared exempt.
Here are a few portions of an article that recently appeared in the New York Times, with clarifications by the Progress Report.
The wealthy U.S. diplomat did not want anyone to know he had talked to a reporter. Not about the subject of London's proposed fee on cars driving into the center of town.
"We don't want to sound like we think it's a big deal," the diplomat said. "But it is a general position that this is a tax issue and that therefore embassies should be exempted."
Therein lies the crux of the awkwardness bubbling up between the city of London and representatives of some embassies here. Starting in February, the city plans to embark on a traffic-reduction program, charging motorists 5 pounds a day for the privilege of driving in certain central neighborhoods. The diplomats do not want pro-environmental rules to apply to them and are fighting back in the way they know best, diplomatically.
The reason for the objection, they say, is rooted in the 1961 Vienna Convention, which bars governments from levying taxes on missions and embassies.
"It is the view of the United States government that the decision to apply the congestion charge against staff working for the United States and other countries is a clear violation of the Vienna Convention," a spokesman for the American Embassy told the Sunday Telegraph last week.
Although the American pique about congestion charges is well known in diplomatic circles, the spokesman was not allowed to talk about it to American reporters because, the spokesman said, the State Department has not authorized him to speak to the American press on this awkward issue.
According to officials in other embassies, the Americans have even hinted that if their workers are forced to fork over the 5 pounds every time they want to drive to work, British diplomats might well find themselves suddenly subject to similar charges.
"It's an issue of principle," one official said. "If we can't negotiate something then we might find that the only way to resolve the disagreement is to say, "Well, you say it isn't a tax, so we'll impose the same kind of nontax on British diplomats." [The Progress Report notes -- that is not a threat, that would be a wonderful thing, a new environmental "green tax" in the USA!]
Tough luck, says the famously contentious mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who had the idea for the congestion charge in the first place.
"This is not a tax — it's a congestion charge for entering central London during certain hours on weekdays," said Stuart Ross, a spokesman for London Transport.
Congestion imposes economic, social and health burdens on others without their consent. A system of fees to charge vehicles for the burdens that they impose makes excellent economic sense. We applaud the mayor of London. The privilege-seeking diplomats should be ashamed. What's your opinion? Tell your views to The Progress Report:
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