Congress is considering a new mileage tax to help repair the country’s crumbling roadways. The Highway Trust Fund, which was created to generate revenue for highway maintenance through gasoline taxes, is broke and politicians are reluctant to increase the 18.4 cents per gallon federal tax which has remained at that level for two decades.
University of Minnesota transportation policy expert Lee Munnich says, “The gas tax is just not sustainable,” and argues that the pay per mile tax is “the most logical alternative over the long term.”
Southern California Association of Governments executive director Hasan Ikhrata argues, “This really is a must for our nation. It is not a matter of something we might choose to do.” According to Ikhrata, “There is going to be a change in how we pay these taxes. The technology is there to do it.”
The technology Ikhrata refers to is already in place in the form of the so-called “black boxes” already being installed in most new vehicles.
The new tax, which is being referred to as a “mileage-based user fee”, and the technology used to calculate it have some privacy advocates concerned about exactly what data will be gathered, and how it will be used.
The Nevada ACLU, for instance, has warned, “It would be fairly easy to turn these devices into full-fledged tracking devices. There is no need to build an enormous, unwieldy technological infrastructure that will inevitably be expanded to keep records of individuals”
Advocates, however, see a number of practical advantages. They argue the new tax could be structured in ways which could reduce traffic congestion in urban areas, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The idea has even gained the support of some unlikely allies, including House Transportation Committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA). Reason Foundation vice president Adrian Moore says, “This is not just a tax going into a black hole. People are paying more directly into what they are getting.”
Last year the U.S. Senate approved a $90 million pilot project to study the viability of the new tax, but the measure was killed in the House of Representatives.
A number of states and municipalities have already begun moving forward with their own research. Oregon has launched a pilot program of its own which includes 5,000 motorists who pay a mileage fee instead of fuel taxes. Illinois, California and Nevada have pilot programs and the I-95 Coalition, which includes 17 state transportation departments, and New York City are considering pay per mile plans.