Gas Tax Debate: USA Today vs. Rep. Earl Blumenauer

The USA Today editorial board argues that increasing the gas tax is the best way for states to fund transportation while Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) extolls Oregon's VMT fee pilot project, which the editors calls complex and bureaucratic.
May 16, 2013, 10am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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In this "Our View"/"Opposing View" debate on transportation funding, both sides agree that the current system - where many states and the federal government haven't increased gas taxes in decades, leaves roads in bad repair and the federal Highway Trust Fund headed for bankruptcy. They differ on the solution.

The editors first take aim at the "punitive" Virginia gas excise tax replacement that includes new hotel and sales taxes and a new hybrid/EV fee.

As for Oregon's Vehicle Mileage Traveled fee experiment, "the state has engineered a complex bureaucratic system that accomplishes little that a gasoline tax doesn't", they write.

(The gas tax) has the great virtue of being uncomplicated and fair. The people who pay the most gas tax are those who drive the most and use the most gas. Makes sense to us.

Most states have plenty of room to bump up their taxes without resorting to more intrusive alternatives.

In fact, this year governors in Wyoming, Maryland and Vermont have signed bills that increased their gas taxes.

Blumenauer writes, "With the purchasing power of the gas tax dwindling, the most promising funding alternative is a vehicle-mile-traveled fee (VMT), which Oregon is helping to develop as an alternative revenue source."

Oregon just completed the second phase of a 10-year VMT pilot project that demonstrated simple, practical technologies to keep track of miles driven and assess a road fee.

The editors themselves acknowledge the alternative approaches taken by the pilot project:

It is testing a plan to replace its gas tax with a mileage fee, one with five options for reporting miles driven. Two options would involve transponders in cars that transmit GPS data to the mileage fee agency. Two would transmit mileage but not locational data. A fifth would have drivers getting their odometers checked periodically, presumably at inspection time.

Blumenauer has "developed legislation to extend the Oregon pilot project to other states so drivers can understand the benefits of a new VMT system that pays for necessary road use and makes driving easier and more convenient."

He concludes, "The VMT is the most promising mechanism for funding the transportation demands of today and, especially, tomorrow."

This debate was very similar to one that appeared in The Wall Street Journal and posted here. Robert Pooledirector of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation, took a position similar to Rep. Blumenauer.

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Published on Monday, May 13, 2013 in USA Today
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