February 17, 2009
Public officials from several states are gathering in Austin, Texas this April for a symposium to discuss the implementation of a nationwide, mileage-based taxing system to replace the gas tax.
Spearheaded by the Texas Transportation Institute, this symposium will feature representatives from several state transportation departments such as, Oregon, Minnesota and Texas. Over the course of this two day event, several panel sessions are planned to discuss past, current and upcoming pilot studies for the mileage tax, legislative and policy issues, public acceptance challenges, potential technology applications, and institutional issues.
Several states across the nation, are seeking to implement a mileage tax for drivers to generate more tax revenue, some states are even talking about having gas and mileage taxes. The idea of a tax by the mile GPS system, being monitored and maintained by state or federal governments is about as "Orwellian" as you can get, and is extremely unpopular according to several polls.
The proponents reasoning behind the mileage tax, is that states have lost tax revenue from the transition to higher fuel efficient cars by the public. We have been pushed towards "green" cars by government and man-made global warming alarmist, in order to reduce our carbon footprint, as well as our dependence on foreign oil. The drivers who have switched to higher fuel efficient cars will be rewarded by a new nationwide taxing and tracking grid that will give birth to another government bureaucracy. This will create the potential for more of the same corruption, privacy concerns and overbearing tax system that Americans are becoming all to familiar with.
The technology that will be used is a RFID embedded sticker and GPS satellite boxes installed in all vehicles and gas stations. This type of system will require a total revamp of all fuel stations, along with the auto industry in order to make this happen. The hefty price tag for such a massive change in our transportation system will of course be somewhat funded by the federal government, but with strings attached. The government always has stipulations attached to the funds they relinquish to the states. So, the possibility exists that states who are not actively participating in the move for a nationwide system, will have transportation funding dropped. The Obama administration is seeking to transform the nations transportation system to this tax by mile model and has even sought advice from officials in the UK that are currently using it. The newly appointed Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood is also a big supporter of this idea as, stated on his blog.
Trials of this system began in Oregon in 2006 and were deemed a success by their Governor, Ted Kulongoski, who is pushing hard for state legislation in the upcoming session. In the 2007 test which lasted 10 months with 300 motorists at two service stations, drivers were taxed 1.2 cents per mile and were refunded the 24 cents a gallon state gas tax. When the motorists got to the pump, their vehicles connected to government computers informing them of the mileage (calculated via GPS tracking) and issuing tax.
With the global financial crisis now affecting several states, lawmakers nationwide are promoting new bills to start the transition to a mileage tax. Although the move for a mileage tax has been in process for many years, now they can use the financial crisis as the excuse to push it onto the people. The biggest problem that lies before them is the publics reaction to the idea of being taxed by the mile. Creating an effective PR campaign, paid for by our taxes, will be crucial in order to sell this as a necessary and good move for the people. A tough sell, considering the publics confidence level of government, big brother aspects of the plan, a possibility of increased taxes on a already cash-strapped public and the potential for more mismanagement of funds and corruption by public officials.
Several examples I foresee include an initial increase of tax for every driver just to pay for this system, and a perceived penalty on those who chose to buy gas efficient cars. There could also be instances where an older person on a fixed income, who cannot afford a new car, will be taxed more using their older vehicle. The potential will also arise, with this per mile tax system, that some loopholes could be built in that could be exploited. Thus, enabling public officials to pay lower taxes or none at all, which has already occurred with the EZ Pass toll tag system. What about the potential lost revenue from other equipment that use gas such as, lawn mowers, weed eaters, dirt bikes, 4 wheelers, snowmobiles, generators, power washers, air compressors, forklifts, wood chippers, chain saws, leaf blowers, snow throwers, ice fishing drills, and boat motors to name a few. Although this would be hard to estimate, I’m sure this revenue will also be tacked onto the per mile tax.
The mileage tax will also have the ability to control your movements by creating "peak" and "off peak" hours which will yield different tax rates. Even driving on different days and areas within the state will yield different rates. I can also visualize scenarios in which the city or state will designate "high congestion days", such as Thanksgiving and July 4th, or even hours of increased "celebration" such as New Years Eve to reduce the potential for drunk drivers on the road. Remember, it will all be pitched for your safety and the possibilities for continuous changes to the tax rate on a whim will be endless.
Raising the gas tax is a common sense answer to the problem, but would eliminate the need for increased federal entanglement with the states, in turn limiting the growth of big government. This would also prevent the emergence of a centralized big brother system with the ability to tax, trace and track all movements by the people. Government always seeks to expand their power through crisis, and cement their control through legislation. Once they gain control, it is never relinquished and when their plan fails, the solution is always more money and control. We cannot afford to take another leap of faith and trust this regressive shift in the way we live our daily lives. If it’s all about lost revenue from higher fuel efficient vehicles, why not just raise the gas tax.
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