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Transportation Chair Endorses Mileage Fee—Why Is That Bad?

While road usage fee advocates may be celebrating this key endorsement of what many transportation experts view as the inevitable funding option, Streetsblog's Tanya Snyder is calling it a setback because of what else Rep. Bill Shuster did on Feb 4.
February 7, 2014, 6am PST | Irvin Dawid
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When Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), Chair of the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, endorsed the vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) fee during a Feb. 04 "Investing in U.S. Infrastructure" panel discussion in Washington, "he also brought the hammer down on the idea of a gas tax hike," writes Snyder.

“Economically, it is not the time” to raise the gas tax, he told the audience. “I just don’t believe the American people have the will out there, in the public or in Congress; even our president has said we’re not going to do that. We’ve got to figure out a different way at this point in time.”

Notwithstanding President Obama's position, Snyder points to recent endorsements for increasing the primary federal funding option for American's roads and transit that has been stagnant for two decades, the 18.4-cent federal excise tax. "Raising the gas tax is by far the simplest and most popular option for raising revenues for transportation," she writes. Supporters include:

A VMT fee, on the other hand, is still largely in the theoretical phase, except for a limited program in Oregon, and must overcome the significan 'privacy issue'. Snyder writes, "The chorus of dissent to any government plan to track vehicle movements would be overwhelming."

Most experts view the fee as a long-term solution in light of increasing vehicle fuel efficiency and alternative technologies that don't use fossil fuels. Two federal commissions endorsed shifting to a VMT fee over time, but increasing the gas tax in the near term.

Snyder even notes that "Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who will be Shuster’s partner in passing a bill, has already said a VMT fee won’t fly." Instead, Boxer has suggested a variation of the gas tax.

Shuster did leave the door open for some other revenue alternatives. "Besides a mileage tax, he said other funding methods include higher taxes on energy exploration and bringing back corporate profits earned overseas," writes Laura Litvan of Bloomberg News.

If Shuster is truly serious about implementing a VMT fee, the test will be to see if he endorses Rep. Earl Blumenauer's second bill, HR 3638, the 'Road User Fee Pilot Project Act', which we described here recently.

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Published on Thursday, February 6, 2014 in Streetsblog USA
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