A month into the job, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is floating a trial balloon. How about taxing motorists on how many miles they drive rather than on how many gallons of fuel they burn?
Its a fresh idea, at least for Americans. It has been debated for years in Europe though it is not in significant use there except for commercial trucks. In the U.S., three states are discussing it and the U.S. Congress is hearing proposals to fund trial programs.
The basic idea is to base the taxes needed to build and maintain roads on actual use of those roads instead of a flat per-gallon fee on fuel.
LaHood is not doing this casually. Our gas-tax system is failing. As vehicles get more fuel efficient, Americans are buying less fuel but driving more miles and wearing out the roads faster. Congress has to kick an extra $8 billion a year into the national road fund to make up for the shortfall. LaHood opposes raising the federal fuel tax during a recession.
So what are the options for making road maintenance self-funding?
LaHood, one of two Republicans in President Obamas cabinet, notes two other options: more toll roads and more government-private business cooperation (which is a polite phrase for toll road).
Now that may be an orators trick to make a proposal sound more reasonable – kind of, I suggest the gruel, but you could choose burned peanut shells or ground glass.
But lets cut LaHood some slack. Nobody wants to explore new tax methods.
We all hate fuel taxes. We hate toll roads. We hate per-mile taxes.
Which do we hate least?