February 20th, 2009
03:00 PM ET
11 years ago

Transportation Dept.: Obama will not pursue mileage tax

The Obama administration will not support a policy of taxing drivers based on their mileage, the Transportation Department said Friday after a published interview in which Secretary Ray LaHood called it an idea 'we should look at.'

The Obama administration will not support a policy of taxing drivers based on their mileage, the Transportation Department said Friday after a published interview in which Secretary Ray LaHood called it an idea 'we should look at.'

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Obama administration will not support a policy of taxing drivers based on their mileage, the Transportation Department said Friday after a published interview in which Secretary Ray LaHood called it an idea "we should look at."

In a written statement, the department said, "The policy of taxing motorists based on how many miles they have traveled is not and will not be Obama administration policy."

The idea - which involves tracking drivers through global positioning system (GPS) units in their cars - is gaining support in some states as a way of making up for a shortfall in highway funding. Oregon carried out a pilot program and deemed it "successful."

Speaking to The Associated Press, Transportation Secretary LaHood, an Illinois Republican, said, "We should look at the vehicular miles program where people are actually clocked on the number of miles that they traveled." The remark was part of a discussion about various options to help make up for the highway funding shortfall on the federal level.

When contacted by CNN, the Transportation Department said LaHood was unavailable. A spokeswoman provided the department's statement and said she could not elaborate.

Officials in Massachusetts told CNN this week that there has been talk of proposing such a system for the state. Colin Durant, a spokesman for Gov. Deval Patrick, said "privacy would be our top priority."

Patrick on Friday announced a different plan to help raise highway funds: a 19-cent hike in the state's gas tax. But he said that alone "will not solve all our challenges," and some "major reforms" will be needed.

Under a VMT (vehicle miles traveled) tax program, GPS units would allow the government to keep track of how much each car is driven and where - though not necessarily with exact street locations. It may also track other things, including the time each car enters a certain zone.

For decades, the fuel taxes that drivers pay at the pump have been the central source of federal and state funding for roads and bridges. But they are no longer nearly enough. Last fall, Congress approved an $8 billion infusion into the depleted federal highway trust fund.

The problem stems in part from something good: more and more Americans are buying vehicles with better gas mileage. That means less gas tax money from each car, though the car is causing the same amount of wear and tear on the roads.

Officials including LaHood have opposed raising the national gas tax, particularly in the current recession, and have said a new system is needed.

A report by the Oregon Department of Public Transportation, published in November 2007, said a "Road User Fee Pilot Program" found that a VMT tax is "viable."

"Privacy is protected," the report argued, saying the pilot program included "engineering requirements to maintain as much privacy as practicable while still allowing a feasible way to audit and challenge billings."

"No specific vehicle point location or trip data could be stored or transmitted" in the pilot program, and "the only centrally stored data needed to assess mileage fees were vehicle identification, zone mileage totals for each vehicle and the amount of fuel purchased."

Some officials support using tracking zones and times of day in determining a VMT tax, so that more would be charged for driving on crowded roads during rush hour.

But some people across the country have spoken up against a VMT tax.

"Is this a good idea? In a word, no," columnist Glenn Reynolds wrote in January for Popular Mechanics. "At best, it's overcomplicated and intrusive. At worst, it's a threat to privacy and the environment."

Reynolds added, "Gas taxes are a pretty good proxy for road usage - the more you drive, the more gas you burn - and there's a bonus: Gas taxes encourage people to use less gas... A mileage tax, presumably, doesn't care whether you're driving a Prius or a Hummer, giving no incentive to save."

The Civitas Institute in North Carolina - which describes itself as standing for "liberty and prosperity derived from limited government" - said it carried out a poll in North Carolina and found that voters disapprove of the idea.

A federal blue-ribbon panel plans to issue a report next week on ways the country can make up for its highway funding shortfall. Other possibilities include tolls, higher registration fees, and other types of taxes.

In its interim report, the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission said new technologies could allow for a mileage gas tax that would take into account the type of vehicle and level of emissions. Programs of that type are being developed in other countries, including Germany and Netherlands, the report said.

It added, "Such programs may not be ripe for widespread implementation in the U.S. yet, but are maturing rapidly."
–CNN's Kara Yates contributed to this report.

Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (72 Responses)
  1. Gene

    If people drove long miles by choice, then this is a program I believe may work. Unfortunately, many people have to drive many miles by necessity, due to lack of work in local areas, or lack of services in rural areas. You can't punish people because they are forced to drive long distances.

    February 20, 2009 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |

    Good for President Obama. Finally something from him that I can get behind.

    February 20, 2009 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  3. DNC

    SICK of this OBAMA CABINET BS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



    February 20, 2009 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  4. Chris from NY

    If there was any one who refused to be entangled in Politics it was Jesus. Yet the only definition of Politics the Republicans know is using Jesus' name in vain. Thank God He's the only one to judge. Otherwise I would think that all Republicans will end up in hell. Because they don't care for any one else but themsleves. They are righteous in their own eyes. They practice Christianity like the Pharisees and Saducees did in Jesus' times.

    February 20, 2009 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  5. Chuck, Tennessee

    I hope this never takes hold in any state. We already pay tax on gas. In effect, we are taxing based on how much you drive. The more you drive, the more gas you use, and more you are taxed. We don't need another government beuracracy to run another tax program.

    February 20, 2009 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  6. Steve (the real one)

    Why was this foolishness even brought up? These people never met a tax they didn't like! I can hear you now...but he's a republican! YEAH RIGHT!

    February 20, 2009 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  7. Michael Casteel

    We have a system that charges drivers for the miles they drive, it is called a gas tax. It is mind blowing that any one would be so stupid as to even suggest thinking about this idea. Gee, we could call it the George Orwell memorial tracking system.

    February 20, 2009 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  8. Dont blame me

    The time is soon approaching for all GOOD Americans to march on Washington and demand that Obama and his henchmen; Pelosi, Reid, Murtha, Durbin, Dodd, Rains, Frank and Obama's other Chicago THUGS be driven out of office and out of this country.

    It is just about time for all GOOD Americans to TAKE BACK OUR COUNTRY from these Communists!!!!!!!


    February 20, 2009 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  9. todd

    So, in MA (which is a state that is supposedly considering this idea) potentially gets hit twice. Patrick is going to raise the gas tax by 27cents NOW, and will implement the drive tax LATER. Love it!!!

    February 20, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  10. Spencer/Bad Newz, VA

    Thank God. That idea sounds completely ridiculous. If LaHood actually thinks we need to consider this, I want his resignation.

    February 20, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  11. Traveler

    How can this be a practical idea. People may be forced to travel long distances because of where their job is located. Its not that in this economy people are just driving around for pleasure. Transportation is a fixed cost for most families and thats the way it should remain. I wouldn;t want to pay any more than what I'm already paying for transportation.

    February 20, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  12. Bob in Pa

    Gee, it only goes to show when the liberals get what they want they screw them selves in the end. If less people are driving as much and / or buying cars with improved gas mileage, the tax revenues collected will decline because they are using less gas. Solutions anyone ?

    February 20, 2009 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  13. Had It

    Good – I bought a Hybrid (extra money to buy) and would hate to have to pay even more for the miles I drive. I bought it so I could get better mileage and save on the cost of gas/mile.

    February 20, 2009 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  14. Mike O'Brien

    Interesting idea.. Would that mean that the state and federal gas taxes would be dropped ? Mike in Montana

    February 20, 2009 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  15. Bob in Pa

    Tracking our cars with GPS – whoa, talk about 1984 !
    Can you say Invasion of Privacy ?
    Where is the ACLU on this topic ? Oh that's right, the average American isn't a terrorist.

    February 20, 2009 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |


    February 20, 2009 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  17. Tiffanie

    I am so glad that Obama is not supporting this... As mr. Reynolds put it.. It is an invasion of our privacy to allow the Feds to put GPS tracking in our cars.

    There are a bunch of other ways to get the money to fix the roads. I live in Oregon.. And that sensor thing did not go over very well at all.. Some people did it, but very few... So instead, they have raised our registration fees... one of the options listed above.. an extra $20 or $30 every 2 years is not a huge ordeal... and on a new car, you don't have to renew for 4 years!! What a deal...

    February 20, 2009 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  18. Travis

    This is INSANE. Again, another government official is trying to get support for something unconstitutional ie. patriot act, fairness doctrine, gun rights, etc. This law is a complete violation of the right to privacy. No Government is going to track me with a gps, especially for tax purposes.

    February 20, 2009 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  19. Bob in Pa

    Send Mr. LaHood (appropriate name) back to that cesspool of politicians in Illinois.

    February 20, 2009 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  20. Jack

    Lots of people cannot control how far they drive to work. But they can control what kind of car they drive. Better a tax on gas that is revenue neutral (rebated in some way) on a projected use of 23mpg over 13000 miles a year. Drive a gas guzzling SUV and you would pay the entire tax over and above the number of gallons the pegged use is. This would encourage conservation better than dictating Cafe mileage rules. This would prevent money from flowing overseas. to OPEC. Less money over there would silence those like Chavez. Remember what happened to the USSR when they ran out of money? And look at the trouble Russia is trying to cause now, we would save balance of payments and perhaps military expenditures.

    February 20, 2009 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  21. the idiot

    Gosh I wish he would, he has pursued so many other stupid socialist ideas.

    February 20, 2009 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  22. vic

    WHY are these people throwing these ideas out before even discussing them with President Obama? Why are they getting the public all stirred up over nothing? These big mouths are doing their best to make President Obama look bad, and we're getting sick of it. It's time for President Obama to put muzzles on these people.

    February 20, 2009 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  23. thomas

    Well, Obama passed that test. He knows bad idea when he sees it.

    February 20, 2009 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  24. APH

    I won't mind paying higher gas taxes if I could be GUARANTEED my money is actually going toward improving our infrastructure. I think most Americans could agree to that because the last thing we need to see is another bridge collapse or sink hole on a major highway.

    February 20, 2009 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  25. Megan

    Sounds like the Republicans in his cabinet are missing a few memos.

    February 20, 2009 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
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