We should make gas taxes part of a car’s purchase price. It would certainly beat Transportation Secretary LaHood’s proposal of a vehicle mileage tax (and is there any stupid idea that Republicans won’t embrace?):
Some surprising news out of the Department of Transportation today as Ray LaHood suggests that the Obama administration is considering taxing people based on how many miles they drive. A vehicle miles traveled tax, as the proposal is often called, has been under consideration in states like Rhode Island and Idaho and has, not surprisingly, proven pretty unpopular. First, it’s a tax. Second, it requires the installation of a GPS chip to record miles driven and beam the information to centralized computers. Sorry, did that sound Orwellian? I meant a small transponder that informs the government of your driving habits.
Crap. This is hard to sell.
In the interview with the Associated Press, LaHood set the vmt in opposition to a gasoline tax, which he “firmly opposes,” at least during the current recession.
Ezra Klein thinks this might be better than the gasoline tax, however:
There’s some logic to that. Gasoline is a very visible, and very unpredictable, cost. Every summer, particularly in recent years, the price of fuel becomes a tier one political issue, in large part because it rises so much from the winter. It’s hard to imagine a gasoline tax being sustained. Vehicle miles traveled, by contrast, is both steadier and less visible.
But the best way to get people to buy more gas-efficient cars–which, along with raising revenue, is the point of the exercise–would be to impose a tax at the time of purchase based on gas mileage. It might go something like this:
- Assume that a car will be driven 120,000 miles.
- Calculate how many gallons of gas at the city mileage rate would be used.
- Impose a gas tax (at whatever amount per gallon is deemed appropriate at the time of purchase.
Under this system, if we were to impose a dollar per gallon tax, a gas guzzling SUV that gets 12 mpg would have a tax of $10,000, while a zippy little hybrid that got 40 mpg would have a tax of $3,000. This would influence consumer decisions far more than that day’s price at the pump.
Added note: Late Friday, the Obama administration came to its senses and scrapped LaHood’s plan.