For all the talk about the need to raise the gas tax in Texas to meet our transportation needs, there is another possible way to do it, which is now under study: The vehicle miles tax.
The Texas Transportation Commission has directed a fresh study of the idea, and it is not alone. There are pilot projects in other states and nationally to gauge how such a tax would work.
Texas transportation officials say the study is meant to help give lawmakers information on options ahead of their next regular session in 2011, when they confront a funding squeeze that is expected to drain the highway fund of money for new construction contracts by 2012.
“We need to think differently about how we fund transportation,” Texas Transportation Commission Chairwoman Deirdre Delisi said at a Texas Taxpayers and Research Association forum in November.
Delisi said the vehicle-miles-traveled tax idea is controversial, but should be discussed because revenue from the state’s main source of transportation funding, the motor fuels tax, is declining. The gasoline tax has not been raised since 1991.
I first heard of this concept back in 2004, and am willing to see what the Texas Transportation Institute’s study will have to say. What’s not clear to me is why this might be any less contentious than a straightforward increase and indexing of the gas tax. I get the technical idea, but I don’t quite get the politics.
Just how a vehicle-miles-traveled tax would be assessed is part of the study. It could be as simple as drivers writing a check when they have their vehicles inspected or could involve in-car technology to more precisely track mileage, perhaps tacking on a charge when drivers fuel up by communicating with the gas pump.
The latter would allow for such things as different charges for rural versus urban driving, and for deductions when people travel out of state, noted Ginger Goodin, the Texas Transportation Institute research engineer leading the study. She said, however, that privacy concerns quickly arise when such technology is discussed.
Again, I’m willing to see what they come up with, but I think we can all see the argument that will be used against “in-car technology to more precisely track mileage”, and it won’t be pretty. Who will be willing to stand up to that, and will they be more willing to fight for that instead of a gas tax increase? That’s the question. EoW and Come and Take It have more.