Mileage Tax


For years and years, I've heard arguments that higher gas prices would make Americans morally better people. It would break our dependence on consumer culture. It would make Americans less fat. It would make Americans less greedy for energy. It would make Americans buy more fuel efficient cars. This last article actually has a pile of moral arguments: Americans would stay closer to home, enjoying their communities and building relationships. They would gamble less. They would use less credit.

So, I was not surprised to see that nobody in the political class is all that worried about gas prices: after all, they're convinced that high gas prices will be good for us. Given that the political class thinks we're not capable of making good decisions on our own, naturally it follows that the political class would be fine with high gas prices.

That is not to say that they would want to be blamed for those high prices. So, instead of the occasionally-floated 'European style gas tax,' we've gotten increasing restrictions on refineries in the United States; bans on drilling in lots and lots of places inside the country; a "moratorium" on offshore drilling; etc., etc. It looks like market forces if you aren't paying attention -- which allows blame to be shifted to the oil companies. If you look closely, though, you see that there is a lot of pressure being added by the 'hand of government.'

None of that is surprising.

So now you're paying a lot more for gas, but your job is just as far away as it ever was. You may not be taking a vacation or flying anywhere, and you certainly won't be living it up at the casinos! You'll be spending time closer to home, building communities, etc.

Still, you can't really sell your house and move closer to work because the real estate market is broken. So, you do what you've been told to do, and trade in your much-derided SUV for a more fuel-efficient car. Say, one of those praiseworthy Prius-type cars we've heard so much about. Or a Leaf. Whatever.

Good work. You've done everything right. Obviously, you must be punished.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) this week released a report that said taxing people based on how many miles they drive is a possible option for raising new revenues....

The report discussed the proposal in great detail, including the development of technology that would allow total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) to be tracked, reported and taxed, as well as the pros and cons of mandating the installation of this technology in all vehicles....

[Sen. Conrad] noted the possibility of a VMT tax as a way to solve the problem of collecting less in taxes as people move to more fuel-efficient vehicles.

"Do we do gas tax?" Conrad asked. "Do we move to some kind of an assessment that is based on how many miles vehicles go, so that we capture revenue from those who are going to be using the roads who aren't going to be paying any gas tax, or very little, with hybrids and electric cars?"
You can read the report here. The report does consider among the "cons" the implications for privacy -- to whit, the fact that your every move will be monitored by the government to ensure they get paid for each exercise of your right to travel. Sensing the danger of trying to impose such a regime upon Americans, the report ponders possibly allowing some people to choose to pay higher taxes elsewhere in return for 'opting out' of the system. The wording here is careful: "Allowing users with the strongest concerns about privacy to opt out... might serve as a safety valve to make the system more acceptable to the public."

It shouldn't be acceptable, even so, because there's no reason poorer Americans -- who may not be able to afford the higher taxes necessary to 'opting out' -- should not enjoy the same privacy protections as rich Americans. This is not the first time this issue has arisen.

Keeping the roads in good condition is one of the legitimate functions of the government, and even the Federal government in the case of what the Constitution calls "post roads." They must be funded one way or another. However, our right to be free from unreasonable searches is not to be sacrificed for it.

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