In a recent edition of The Taxpayer's Tab, we here at National Taxpayers Union Foundation highlighted a bill offered by Congressman Tom Graves (R-GA) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) that would phase out federal control of certain roads and other infrastructure in order to transfer that authority to the states. The Transportation Empowerment Act was introduced in the wake of warnings from the Congressional Budget Office that the Highway Trust Fund, which finances the construction and maintenance of most of those transportation projects, is in poor fiscal condition.
Among the recommendations for keeping the Fund solvent? A nearly 83 percent increase in the federal gas tax, up to 33.3 cents from its current level of 18 cents.
That particular suggestion came from the office of Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who also recently introduced H.R. 3638, the Road Usage Fee Pilot Program Act of 2013. Rep. Blumenauer’s bill would authorize $35 million to study how a mileage-based fee program might be implemented in place of the gas tax.
The Congressman has called for similar studies before. In January, NTUF highlighted legislation that Blumenauer introduced in the 112th Congress that would have authorized nearly $155 million for review of the same scenario.
A per-mile fee would likely be instituted in one of three ways:
- A GPS-based system would use satellite technology to track the total mileage a registered vehicle travels during a pre-determined period of time. That information would then be sent to a central database, where bills would then be processed and sent to drivers.
- A "pay-at-the-pump" system would also rely on wireless tracking systems to log drivers' travels, but the fee would instead be charged at gas stations across the country whenever drivers decide to fill up.
- A prepaid system would require drivers to buy "mileage licenses," authorizing their use of public roads for a certain period of time or total mileage before requiring renewal.
Aside from the obvious privacy concerns and challenges of implementation and administration (especially from a financial and logistical standpoint), these proposals all have one thing in common: they would increase the cost of driving significantly.
The Government Accountability Office recently modeled the effect of a (seemingly modest) 0.9 to 2.2 cent per mile tax on the typical American driver. They found that the average driver would pay between $108 and $248 per year under that system, compared to the $96 they pay now – an increase of at least 12.5 percent.
Current funding for federal transportation infrastructure, under the MAP-21 Act, expires at the end of 2014.