LaHood favors tax on travel, not fuel
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood endorsed the concept of a vehicle-miles tax and ruled out raising motor fuel taxes as a way to fund road and transit improvements in the future, in an interview with the Associated Press on Friday.
The National Commission on Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing recommends that the United States move towards a system of taxing vehicles based on miles traveled and raise the federal tax on gasoline 10 cents per gallon and up to 15 cents per gallon for diesel in the interim, according to draft copies of its report scheduled to be officially released on Thursday.
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Last year another commission called for a 25-cent to 40-cent increase in the gasoline tax over five years to shore up the Highway Trust Fund used to provide highway and transit aid to states.
Several business groups, including the American Trucking Associations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have said they will support a fuel tax increase if there are assurances the money will benefit users and not be diverted for other purposes.
Fixing the broken transportation finance system will be a key part of the debate in Congress this year over reauthorizing the multiyear spending blueprint for surface transportation that expires on Sept. 30. Gas tax collections are not keeping pace with highway use and the need to repair deteriorating highways, bridges and other structures.
The situation was underscored Thursday by new data from the Federal Highway Administration showing that Americans drove 3.8 billion fewer miles, or 1.6 percent less in December than in the last month of 2007. Overall, motorists in 2008 drove 108 billion miles less, down 3.6 percent from the previous year. The numbers reflect changes in driving behavior due to sky-high fuel prices for most of last year and less travel demand due to the weak economy. Revenues are also declining because more efficient vehicles in use today use less fuel. Last September, Congress moved $8 billion from the general fund to the Highway Trust Fund to keep the federal highway grant program operating.
LaHood will be the point man for the administration's reauthorization proposal.
He said in the interview that more tolls for highways and bridges, and public-private partnerships should also be part of the new funding mix.
Taxing people on the distance they traveled by road is an attempt to get people to pay their fair share of using the transportation system, which suffers wear and tear from vehicles no matter what fuel mileage they get. The system would use tracking technology and wireless communication to compute a vehicle's travel miles and bill the consumer.
Building a national vehicle-miles system would take years to complete.
The National Industrial Transportation League will host an online presentation, sponsored by American Shipper, Thursday at 2-3 p.m. EST, that will highlight important aspects of the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Commission's recommendations for the future of the nation's transportation infrastructure, due to be released the same day.
The webinar is free to NIT League members and guests. Online registration is available here. ' Eric Kulisch