LaHood Calls For VMT, New Taxes To Raise Funds For Infrastructure, As Gas Tax Runs Dry

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler

Credit our sorely missed EIC/Editor Emeritus Ed Niedermeyer for being well ahead of the curve. B ack in 2011, Ed told me about how the rise of fuel efficient vehicles would create a revenue shortfall for the federal Highway Trust Fund, and that would lead the government to look at implementing all sorts of unpleasant things like a Vehicle Miles Traveled tax. Guess what Ray LaHood is proposing? You guessed it.

This isn’t the first time LaHood has proposed a VMT either. Back in 2009, he floated the idea as an alternative to raising the gas tax, which provides funding for the Highway Trust Fund, which is used to help maintain America’s roads. Now, LaHood is apparently telling the public that it’s in their interest to push the idea, according to The Detroit News

“Eventually people in the communities are going to persuade their members of Congress: We’re willing to raise taxes, we’re willing to pay tolls, we’re willing to go to vehicle miles traveled because we want better roads, better bridges,” LaHood said.

The big problem is that as Americans drive more fuel efficient vehicles, there is an increasingly large funding shortfall. There hasn’t been a raise in the gas tax since 1993, and Congress has spent $18.8 billion alone just to cover the shortfall for 2013-2014.

Last year, Congressional Budget Office estimated that to meet future highway needs between 2012 and 2022, the trust fund would need another $110 billion in funding. GAO says Congress could either hike gas taxes to 31.6 to 46.6 cents a gallon to fix the roads, or impose a 0.9-cent to 2.2-cent per mile tax on all travel.

The idea of a VMT, especially one tracked by GPS, is one that leaves civil libertarians in a cold sweat at night. Sources in DC tell us that a VMT essentially declared it a non-starter, not just for civil liberties reasons, but that the ROI would not be enough to justify implementing it. Nevertheless, a GAO report essentially endorsed a VMT scheme that could use GPS or other wireless transponders or prepaid “miles” indicated by a sticker on a vehicle’s windshield. Given how much the idea of the automobile is tied into the notion of personal liberty and freedom of movement, it’s hard to imagine this being acceptable to a vast swath of the American public. But something’s gotta give.

As Niedermeyer’s original report states, an increase in the gas tax (which occurred regularly from 1956-1993) is an inevitably, and the most sensible option as well. Though it would cause a hit to people’s pocketbooks, it would be the least intrusive option from a personal freedom standpoint, not to mention it would provide the requisite funding to keep America rolling.

Another side effect of a gas tax hike would be the increasing redundancy of CAFE. Rather than incentivizing auto makers to build hybrids, plug-ins, small displacement engines and increasing numbers of crossovers and trucks ( to get around various CAFE loop holes), a gas tax hike would incentivize more fuel-efficient vehicles, no matter what propulsion system they used. Even Bob Lutz is on board with said logic

You either continue with inexpensive motor fuels and have to find other ways to incentivize the customer to buy hybrids and electric vehicles, such as the government credits. Or the other alternative is a gradual increase in the federal fuel tax of 25 cents a year, which in my estimation would have the benefit of giving automobile companies a planning base, and giving families that own vehicles a planning base. Every time gas prices go back down, everybody starts buying big stuff again. Gas prices go up a buck, the big stuff is unsellable and everyone wants small cars. Go figure. It’s like the collective memory is about three weeks long. We can’t run a business that way.

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  • Reclusive_in_nature Reclusive_in_nature on Jun 27, 2013

    Not every problem has to be solved by more taxation. For instance, how about the States and/or federal government sell license plates to drivers with proven safe driving records that legally permit them to go 10 or 15 miles over the speed limit? OR build autobahn-like (with autobahn-like speed limits) roads parallel to the existing highways and interstates and charge a large enough toll to pay for itself and maybe even upkeep for the other roads? I know that those aren't the absolute best solutions, but at least it's a line of thought that isn't as lazy and unimaginative as just throwing more taxes at all our problems.

    • Hummer Hummer on Jun 27, 2013

      I could really get behind the 10-15 over liscense plates. I could easily see them working well, have them cost the user $100 every 6 months/ year to renew. Hell yea

  • 50merc 50merc on Jun 27, 2013

    I'm against raising gas taxes. The fact I have a tugboat-size 1976 LTD Landau with the 460 cubic inch engine has nothing to do with my opinion.

  • ToolGuy CXXVIII comments?!?
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂