Boxer: Collect Fees on Driving Through ‘Honor System’

Another must-read from last week’s Reuters Infrastructure Summit: Barbara Boxer, who as Chair of the Senate’s Transportation Committee will be responsible for shepherding the next transportation bill through the Senate, says she’s open to a mileage tax and to indexing the gas tax to inflation to generate new revenue.

It’s
great to hear a legislator in Boxer’s position voice support for an
inflation-adjusted gas tax. Someone filling up, say, a 10-gallon tank
contributes the same amount in gas taxes today as in 1993, when
everyone was paying $1.20 per gallon at the pump. Too bad that
unmooring the gas tax from its peg seems anathema to team Obama.

It’s also unfortunate that, when it comes to the mileage tax, Boxer’s support doesn’t appear to run very deep:

The bill’s authors, though, have rejected attaching a small device to cars to measure Vehicle Miles Traveled, Boxer said.

"We’re looking at options. Are there ways for people to — an honor
system, when they register their vehicles — just say, ‘This is the
miles I had last year, this is the miles I have this year,’?" she said.

Many, including Rep. James Oberstar, the Minnesota Democrat who will
manage the transportation bill in the U.S. House of Representatives,
have suggested attaching a machine smaller than a typical cell phone to
vehicles to record mileage.

An honor system… Maybe that works for roadside fruit stands, but funding a desperately needed overhaul of America’s transportation network? I wouldn’t bank on tamper-proof odometers.

  • I still don’t understand why mileage based user fees are a panacea in everyone’s eyes. They’re not. It increases bureaucracy, results in at least two, if not three orders of magnitude, of collection points (gas stations vs. individual cars; at least the license fee is based on something simple like age and value of the vehicle), and introduces potential privacy violations (because you can’t bill people for mileage spent outside the state or country boundaries). It’s good that Democrats and Republicans, no matter what their opinions on whether the gas tax should be indexed, increased, or whatever, believe that VMT is NOT the way to go.

  • Stats Dude

    As I understand it, the reasons given for a VMT tax include:
    1 – The costs of raw materials to repair and build capacity on our roads has increased much higher than the rate of inflation.

    2 – As we go to higher MPG vehicles, hybrids and electric vehicles, even less money will be going to the Highway Trust Fund.

    3 – The thought of going to the massive taxes on gasoline (as in Europe) to fund roads and transit is very sensitive politically. To be polite, there are certain groups that would find any tax increase to be reprehensible. In addition, the underlying derision of “European Socialism” which hampers so much reform options in the USA, will hamper transportation reform.

  • Marcotico

    What about just reforming the gas tax so it is a tax on the expenditure. Like a percent of each dollar instead of each gallon?

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