The conclusion reached by Galician Competition Commission is resounding: “The imposition of a tax measure that implies the charging for the use of high-capacity roads by section or distance can cause obvious damage to economic operators in Galicia». The phrase comes from the report of the Plenary Session of the CGC dated December 20, and which can be consulted on the website of the independent collegiate body. The regional competition commission decides to enter into this issue before the “announcement of the imminent collection by the State Government of an amount for the use (…) of highways and high-capacity roads through a tax rule”, despite the “lack of concrete information” on the Executive’s plans, beyond the information on the future implementation of payment for use (PPU) “which would affect high-capacity roads (state highways and motorways), which heavy vehicles would pay it».
In any case, the CGC is alert and takes a position given the eventual impact on Galicia, given its “specific uniqueness”. Notably, its condition as a peripheral region. In the opinion of this body, “the most efficient solution», and that «the least barrier effect is produced for the maintenance (…) or the establishment of new companies (…) and the one that least (…) will affect the competition of economic operators would be that of a system of charging by time (vignette)», with complementary measures —taxing more intensely on infrastructures or more congested sections—.
As this newspaper published, in the short term the Government welcomes the ‘vignette’ method. A very widespread formula in the European Union that consists of a sticker attached to the vehicle, which allows drivers to circulate freely on paid roads. In the medium term, however, the preferred option is payment per kilometer. Initially, the Government specified that its amount would be one cent for every thousand meters traveled. The Minister of Transport, Raquel Sánchez, did not want to ‘get wet’ in her recent visit to Santiago to meet with the president of the Xunta. Alberto Núñez Feijóo, in his joint appearance, pointed out that the minister had not given him any clues, but insisted that a cost per kilometer system “would be clearly discriminatory” for the peripheral territories, so it would have a “break” in competitiveness, “which we could not assume”.
Going back to the CGC report, it is first “recommended” to carry out a study of “all possible alternatives” to a tax that taxes the use of, at least, highways and expressways (it remains to be seen if it affects the entire state highway network ), to choose the option “that causes the least damage to the market” and “is the most efficient”. In addition, it is recalled that Directive 1999/62/EC «does not impose any obligation” to establish the PPU; only the “faculty” to do so is recognized. And, in any case, adds the CGC, it is “necessary” for the ministry to calculate “the real costs of conservation and operation of these high-capacity roads”, guaranteeing an “adequate provision of that public service”.
In the specific case of Galicia, several considerations. The Directive establishes the “impossibility of imposing tolls and charges simultaneously for the use of the same section of road”. This affects the AP-9 and the AP-53. The CGC estimates that the Government must “adopt an agreement” to either free heavy vehicles that pay a fee from the toll, or provide that said toll “will remain in force.” If the bullet method is set, «we don’t think it’s possible», they warn, «that at the same time they can also continue to collect tolls».
Second, the so-called «peripherality». According to data from the Secretary of State for Commerce, cited in the report, 49.99% of Galicia’s exports in 2019 were made by road. If to this data, revealing, joins the «remoteness (…) to the regions with the highest population and per capita income (…), it is clear that the imposition” of the charge “by section or distance can cause obvious damage to economic operators” of the Community.
The CGC wonders if “the reasons justifying the adoption of a tax measure that could harm competition are so powerful”, and issues two warnings: if the PPU “does not reduce the tax burden borne by taxpayers for the maintenance of these infrastructures, the fundamental argument” to impose the rate will disappear; and if “it is due solely to the reason of being an instrument for the increase of the State’s fiscal collection”, it would be necessary to consider whether it does not cause “a greater distortion” than the current system. In any case, it is concluded that the vignette system would be “more neutral”, since it would not give rise to an “asymmetry” between autonomies: “it would treat equally” all operators, “regardless of their geographical location”.