President Obama on Feb. 20 rejected the suggestion to tax motorists based on how many miles they drive instead of how much gasoline they buy.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had said gasoline taxes that paid for the federal share of highway and bridge construction can no longer be counted on to raise enough money to keep the nation's transportation system moving. But White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said is not and will not be the policy of the Obama administration.
A LaHood spokeswoman said Feb 20 that LaHood was speaking of the idea only in general terms, not as something being implemented as administration policy.
Most transportation experts see a vehicle miles-traveled tax as a long-term solution, and the idea is gaining ground in several states. The governor of Idaho has spoken about such a program. A North Carolina panel has suggested the state start charging motorists a quarter-cent for every mile as a substitute for the gas tax. Rhode Island's governor, however, has expressed opposition to a panel's recommendation in December that the state charge motorists a half-cent for every mile driven in addition to the gas tax.
Drivers have complained about a tentative plan in Massachusetts to use GPS chips in vehicles to charge motorists by the mile, saying it's an Orwellian intrusion by government into the lives of citizens. Other motorists say it eliminates an incentive to drive more fuel-efficient cars since gas guzzlers will be taxed at the same rate as fuel sippers.
In addition to a vehicle miles-traveled tax, more tolls for highways and bridges and more government partnerships with business to finance transportation projects are other funding options, LaHood said Feb. 19. LaHood said he firmly opposes raising the federal gasoline tax in the current recession.
A blue-ribbon national transportation commission is expected to release a report the week of Feb. 23 recommending a VMT tax.
The system would require all cars and trucks be equipped with global satellite positioning technology, a transponder, a clock and other equipment to record how many miles a vehicle was driven, whether it was driven on highways or secondary roads, and even whether it was driven during peak traffic periods or off-peak hours.
The device would tally how much tax motorists owed depending upon their road use. Motorists would pay the amount owed when it was downloaded, probably at gas stations at first, but an alternative eventually would be needed.
The National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission, the blue-ribbon group that is developing future transportation funding options, said moving to a national VMT tax would take about a decade.
Commission chairman Rob Atkinson said privacy concerns are based more on perception than any actual risk. The satellite information would be beamed one way to the car and driving information would be contained within the device on the car, with the amount of the tax due the only information that's downloaded, he said.