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E-ZTax: Tax Salience and Tax Rates

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  • Amy Finkelstein
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    Abstract

    This paper tests the hypothesis that the salience of a tax system affects equilibrium tax rates. To do this, I analyze how toll rates change after toll facilities adopt electronic toll collection. Unlike manual toll collection, in which the driver must hand over cash at the toll collection plaza, electronic toll collection automatically debits the toll amount as the car drives through the toll plaza, thereby plausibly decreasing the salience of the toll. I find robust evidence that toll rates increase following the adoption of electronic toll collection. My estimates suggest that, in steady state, toll rates are 20 to 40 percent higher than they would have been without electronic toll collection. Consistent with the hypothesis that decreased tax salience is responsible for the increase in toll rates, I also find evidence that the short run elasticity of driving with respect to the actual toll declines (in absolute value) following the adoption of electronic toll collection. I consider a variety of alternative explanations for these results and conclude that these are unlikely to be able to explain the findings.

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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w12924.pdf
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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 12924.

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    Date of creation: Feb 2007
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    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12924

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    1. Kydland, Finn E & Prescott, Edward C, 1977. "Rules Rather Than Discretion: The Inconsistency of Optimal Plans," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 85(3), pages 473-91, June.
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    Cited by:
    1. David Levinson & Andrew Odlyzko, 2007. "Too Expensive to Meter: The influence of transaction costs in transportation and communication," Working Papers 200802, University of Minnesota: Nexus Research Group, revised Feb 2007.
    2. Raj Chetty & Adam Looney & Kory Kroft, 2007. "Salience and Taxation: Theory and Evidence," NBER Working Papers 13330, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Almenberg, Johan & Karapetyan, Artashes, 2009. "Mental Accounting in the Housing Market," Working Paper Series 798, Research Institute of Industrial Economics.
    4. Joshua S. Gans & Andrew Leigh, 2006. "Born on the First of July: An (Un)natural Experiment in Birth Timing," CEPR Discussion Papers 529, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
    5. Gilbert Metcalf & David Weisbach, 2008. "The Design of a Carbon Tax," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 0728, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
    6. Michael D. Grubb & Paul Oyer, 2008. "Who Benefits from Tax-Advantaged Employee Benefits?: Evidence from University Parking," NBER Working Papers 14062, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Shan, Hui, 2010. "Property taxes and elderly mobility," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(2), pages 194-205, March.

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