My Dad, a West Point grad and never one to shy away from a fight, knew when to back off; “never kick a man when he’s down,” he admonished me. This is not, however, an adage known to our deal old Uncle Sam. In fact, when it comes to taxes, Washington’s rule of thumb is, kick the hell out of the taxpayers, especially while they’re down.
Even now, in the face of a continuing bad economy, and with gasoline prices at the pump at all-time highs, the federal government is considering hitting the driving public with a whopping new tax – a per-mile tax on every mile you drive! This idea actually had been floated back in 2009 by none other than our Nanny-in-Chief, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood; but in Washington’s renewed search for ways to boost tax revenues, it appears to have grown new legs.
At the request of North Dakota Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a non-partisan arm of the Congress that provides spending and revenue estimates, prepared a 38-page report last month detailing alternative approaches to funding highways and keeping up with their maintenance costs.
The green eyeshade folks at the CBO concluded that a “practical option” would be a new tax on vehicle miles traveled — a “VMT.”
According to the report, “In the past, the efficiency costs of implementing a system of VMT charges — particularly the costs of users’ time for slowing and queuing at tollbooths — would clearly have outweighed the potential benefits from more efficient use of highway capacity. Now, electronic metering and billing are making per-mile charges a practical option.” Thank God for technology – the taxman’s best friend.
The CBO report notes that “[i]n January 2011, combined federal and state fuel taxes were about 48 cents per gallon for gasoline and 53 cents per gallon for diesel fuel, on average. If converted, those tax rates work out to about 2 cents per mile for average passenger vehicles and less than 10 cents per mile for trucks.”
Revenues to the Highway Trust Fund totaled around $35 billion in FY 2010. A tax on vehicle miles traveled would bring in significantly more in revenues; which accounts for its increased popularity in Washington.
There are also privacy concerns that come along with this, as even the CBO recognizes. Notwithstanding such concerns, however, the report floats the idea of tracking the number of miles travelled through either cell towers or GPS. The idea of Big Brother having such access to knowledge of where you were, where you are, and how you got there, should be unsettling to most Americans; even if such concerns matter little to government officials more eager to increase revenues rather than cutting spending.
-by Bob Barr, The Barr Code