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Drivers may pay tax on miles travelled under lawmaker’s plan
March 09, 2018
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WASHINGTON: Drivers could pay a tax based on how many miles their vehicles travel under a plan being pushed by Missouri Rep. Sam Graves, who’s vying to become the powerful new chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

While exact plans for such a tax remain vague, the fees could be calculated based on odometer checks, GPS devices, cellular technology or radio-frequency identification devices that would track how far a vehicle travels and charge drivers accordingly.

Graves, R-Mo., is promoting the per-mile tax as an alternative to raising the gasoline tax, a long-discussed way of providing more money for highway construction and repair.

Some states have been experimenting with a tax on miles travelled. A four-month pilot programme last year in Colorado included 150 participants from 27 counties. The programme let drivers choose how they reported their mileage and compare what they paid to the gas tax.

“Participants reported high satisfaction with all aspects of the pilot programme and 91 per cent said they would participate in a future pilot,” according Michael Lewis, executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Lewis cautioned lawmakers, however, that the miles travelled tax is “probably 10 years off before it can be fully implemented.”

Currently, drivers across the country pay an 18.4 cent-per-gallon federal gas tax that is not indexed for inflation and has not been increased for 25 years.

Over the years, anti-tax attitudes among conservatives have hardened, and Republicans who vote for higher taxes often find themselves with primary opposition.

But most in Congress agree money is badly needed to fix the nation’s ailing, aging infrastructure. Without additional revenue sources, the federal government’s Highway Trust Fund will see a shortfall of $80 billion by 2026, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Graves is so pessimistic about Congress raising the gas tax to fund the nation’s highways that he likened colleagues’ efforts to do so to “beating our heads against the wall.”

“There are a lot of members out there who are just philosophically opposed to increasing the tax,” Graves told reporters on Wednesday. “That’s all there is to it.”

Plus, he pointed out, the gas tax will bring in less revenue over the years as more drivers turn to fuel-efficient or alternatively fueled vehicles such as electric cars.

That’s why Graves said he’s “a believer” in implementing a fee on vehicle miles travelled, or VMT, as a long-term solution.

“We could implement it in the commercial sector almost immediately,” he said. “In the commercial sector they’re already logging in miles... It might be a little farther away in the private sector, and that comes with acceptance and the technology.”

He doesn’t buy critics’ arguments that such a tax would penalise drivers in rural areas.

“They’re already driving farther so they already have to pay more gas tax than somebody who is driving, you know, two miles across town,” Graves said. “Equity is already built into that argument so that doesn’t necessarily worry me.”

Graves’ embrace of the tax on miles travelled separates him from the current chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Bill Shuster, R-Pa., who Wednesday called on President Donald Trump to back a gas tax increase. “I, for one, think it’s time to do it,” said Shuster, who is retiring this year.

Tribune New Service

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