New, Big Brother Road Tax on the Horizon

Hey. Not a lot of time to delve into this one, but I thought it worth taking a brief look.

Y’know how the U.S. federal government has mucho debt and Congress keeps fighting internally about what kind of a budget to give itself (using borrowed or imaginary money), etc.? You’ve heard about that, right? But, bills have to be paid and infrastructure maintained.

Ray LaHood, the Secretary of Transportation, says that the Obama administration wants to spend $556 billion over the next 6 years, largely for federal transportation improvement projects. Have to find that money somewhere, right? So, in a report requested by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has come up with a new way to fund the highway system. Enter: the vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax.

busy, multi-lane highwayThe VMT would mandate the installation of new technology in vehicles that would essentially allow the government to track wherever you go, tallying the miles and billing you accordingly. Earlier plans were stymied by things like the added inconvenience of long lines at tollbooths. Such “would clearly have outweighed the potential benefits from more efficient use of highway capacity,” CBO wrote. “Now, electronic metering and billing are making per-mile charges a practical option.”

But, wait a minute. Doesn’t the federal government already tax us for highway use? Yep, and I’m not talking about toll roads, either. I’m talking about the fuel tax we pay at the pump, which, in the U.S., is designated for transportation projects. So, they want to ding us twice for the same thing. Tax us coming (for the gas to go places) and going (once we’ve been there). Diabolically sweet!

And, don’t let Conrad fool you with his reasoning that they have to compensate for less taken in from fuel taxes due to increased fuel-efficiency and more electric cars. They’ll tax that, too. Remember, Obama said himself that he wants to make electricity prices “necessarily skyrocket”. Plus, here’s what Wikipedia has to say,

“Taxes on transportation fuels have been advocated as a way to reduce pollution and the possibility of global warming and conserve energy. Placing higher taxes on fossil fuels makes petrol just as expensive as other fuels such as natural gas, biodiesel or electric batteries, at a huge cost to the consumer in the form of inflation as transportation costs rise to transport goods all over the country.”

Interesting. I don’t think we’ll be seeing the fuel tax go away anytime soon. More likely, it will just go up.

I’m actually not opposed to usage taxes on principle. They make sense (cents?), as long as they’re constitutional. It’s the double hit that bothers me.

The other thing that bothers me about this proposed VMT, though, is that it’s one more way for the government to keep tabs on us. At least in the past, systems like LoJack were voluntary and ostensibly only used when your vehicle went missing. But, the VMT technology would be a way for the government to get that ability — Big Brother’s watching! — while excusing it as something more mild and “reasonable”. I’m not one to see conspiracies around every corner — or, I try not to. But, this proposal just plain makes me… uncomfortable.

The final paragraph of the article at The Hill does touch on this point:

“CBO did acknowledge that privacy concerns may be a hurdle to implementing a VMT tax because electronic tracking of miles driven might provide too much personal information to the government. However, CBO noted that some have proposed restricting the information that would be transmitted to the government.”

Hmm. What say you?

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