An official with the Congressional Budget Office is proposing that Congress pass legislation that would charge drivers a tax for every mile they drive. The tax would be automatically collected via government monitoring devices placed in every car.
An economist at the Congressional Budget Office suggested on Monday that the federal government could start charging people based on how far they drive in order to generate more government revenues to spend on highway projects.
Chad Shirley, CBO’s deputy assistant director for microeconomic studies, gave a presentation that says federal gas tax revenues are falling short of federal spending on highway programs. But to resolve that problem, Shirley didn’t propose less federal spending, and instead offered three suggestions.
The first is simply, “charging drivers” more the more they drive on roads:
Shirley said that one way to charge drivers more is to implement “vehicle-miles traveled charges.”
Some members of Congress and some officials in the Obama administration have argued for years that a vehicle miles traveled tax, or a “VMT” tax, should be imposed in order to create more federal highway revenue. The Obama administration in 2011 floated a draft bill that would have created a VMT.
Among other things, that plan foresaw the installation of equipment on people’s cars and trucks that would measure how far they drive, and the collection of taxes electronically through a reading of those devices at gas stations.
More recently, some Democrats have proposed legislation creating a VMT tax. But none of these plans have advanced in the Republican-led Congress.
CBO’s presentation also said the government could get more money from drivers by charging them more when traffic is bad. Shirley calls that “congestion pricing.”
A third option, Shirley said, would be “allowing tolling on additional existing interstates.”
Shirley cast all three ideas not as higher taxes or fees, but as an attempt to “make federal highway spending more productive for the economy.”
On the surface – and for all you shallow thinkers out there who are besotted with the idea of “fairness” – the proposal makes sense. Those who use the highways more should pay more, right?
Um, no, not really. The idea that the government should be able to monitor your driving is antithetical to the idea of liberty. And does anyone believe that the monitoring would stop there? There would be calls to install breathalyzers in every car, governors to prevent you from exceeding the speed limit. Perhaps they’d figure out a way to charge you for excess emissions.
And if we’re talking about “fairness,” you would have to charge trucks twice as much per mile. The single biggest contributor to road wear is truck traffic, so in the interest of fairness, they should charge trucks a lot more.
What happens when you drive down a dirt or gravel road not built or maintained by government? And what about the gas tax? Would we have to pay a tax at the pump and per mile?
This proposal is a nightmare, so, of course, Democrats are all for it. But I think there has to be a better way to maintain our roads than having government sticking their noses into our cars and looking over our shoulders as we drive.