Don't Track Me, Bro! Glenn Reynolds on Mileage-Based Gas Tax

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit comes out against
replacing the gas tax with a mileage-based levy, which would likely
be assessed via a GPS-style “black box” installed in cars. The
irony behind the reform idea? People are burning less gasoline,
which is one of the goals of transportation policy. But that means
government collects less money from the gax tax.

From Road & Track:

The response in many places — from Oregon to New
 and points in between — has been to propose taxing
people based on the miles that they drive rather than on the gas
that they burn.  There are even test programs going on in
several states in which GPS trackers are being used to collect
drivers’ mileage.  Needless to say, this sort of thing has
people worried about privacy, especially in the wake of the recent
scandals involving government spying and abuse of data.  It
also raises the question of whether, by moving to a mileage tax,
we’re giving up on trying to get people to save gas….

After noting that tracking drivers in this way creeps out
privacy advocates, Reynolds further notes:

Simpler still, of course, would be an increase in the gas tax.
 Politicians don’t like that, because tax increases are never
popular, and gas is already expensive enough.  But, of
course, the mileage tax would be a tax increase
 since the whole reason it’s being proposed is
because the highway administrators want more money than they’re
getting now.  If you’re going to pay more anyway, why give up
your privacy to boot, just so that politicians can pretend
something else is going on?  And the gas tax is still a pretty
good proxy for road use:  The heavier the vehicle and the more
it drives, the more gas it burns and the more tax its owner pays.
 Hybrids get better mileage (though often no better than
diesels) but that’s not enough to undermine this much, and
pure-electric cars are a tiny fraction of those on the road, and
that isn’t likely to change any time very soon.

Read the whole thing here.

The federal gas tax hasn’t increased in about 20 years and,
unlike most levies, is more clearly designed as a user fee – the
money collected is supposed to be used for highway and
infrastructure upkeep (though
it’s often diverted
 to other purposes). Note that Adrian
Moore of Reason Foundation favors trying out the black boxes. He
believes that privacy concerns can be addressed while getting more
accurate tallies. From an LA Times story:

Wonks call it a mileage-based user fee. It is no surprise that
the idea appeals to urban liberals, as the taxes could be rigged to
change driving patterns in ways that could help reduce congestion
and greenhouse gases, for example. California planners are looking
to the system as they devise strategies to meet the goals laid out
in the state’s ambitious global warming laws. But Rep. Bill Shuster
(R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has said
he, too, sees it as the most viable long-term alternative. The free
marketeers at the Reason Foundation are also fond of having drivers
pay per mile.

“This is not just a tax going into a black hole,” said Adrian
Moore, vice president of policy at Reason. “People are paying more
directly into what they are getting.”

More here.

from Hit & Run

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