If the Obama administration intended the release of its draft “Transportation Opportunities Act” to serve as a trial balloon, it’s finding that it floats as well as lead. Buried in this massive document for reauthorizing transportation programs was a proposal to tax vehicle miles traveled (VMT).
Under the plan, the federal government would require U.S. drivers to install a device in their vehicles to track how many miles they drive. Based on the mileage, regulators would impose a tax every time drivers refueled. Such a policy is not only discriminatory and invasive; it also conflicts with the rhetoric coming from the White House in response to rising energy costs.
A VMT tax would disproportionately burden individuals who do not live in dense, metropolitan areas like Chicago and Washington, DC. It would penalize families who can only afford a house by moving to the suburbs and parents who must drive their children to and from school, extracurricular events, and even the occasional vacation. Rural residents who rely on pickup trucks to traverse rugged roadways and must travel great distances for basic supplies would also carry the unbalanced penalty of such a rule.
In addition to being discriminatory, the proposal would violate privacy issues since the required devices could also track vehicles owners.
The argument that policymakers need to impose a usage fee like a VMT tax to generate more money for infrastructure improvements doesn’t pass muster. The government already collects an 18.4¢ tax on every gallon of gasoline for that very purpose.
Over the past two decades, social engineering planners have raided the Highway Trust Fund — furnished mostly by gasoline taxes — to pay for others modes of transportation like bike trails and train tracks. If this Administration wants to spend more on roads, eliminating diversions from the Trust Fund would be a good place to start.
Municipalities that need additional funding for mass transit should get that funding from its residents, not drivers in other areas. If they want bike trails, their own tax revenue should be the source. States that want to spend more on infrastructure can use their general revenue or raise their gasoline taxes. The gasoline tax was designed to be a “users fee” for highway infrastructure, not a piggy bank for social engineering.
Mobility is an important value to Americans. Our economy and preferred way of life is based on our ability to move goods from manufacturer to consumer and our capability to travel freely. With a low population density, mobility is not a luxury, it is a necessity. (North America has a population density of 32 people per square mile; for a point of reference, compare that to Europe which averages 134 people for every square mile.)
National gasoline prices topping $4 a gallon are already pinching consumers’ wallets. Proposals such as the VMT tax suggest the White House’s agenda may add to rather than alleviate that pain.