'No appetite' for a federal tax on mileage, official says

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 7/23/2013

A top DOT official says the White House continues to have no appetite for a tax on vehicle miles traveled despite a funding gap on its plate for transportation.

“I think in Washington there doesn’t appear to be any appetite for it whatsoever,” Polly Trottenberg, undersecretary for policy for the U.S. Department of Transportation, told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Highways and Transit on Tuesday, July 23.

The subject arose during a hearing on the financial status of the Highway Trust Fund.

Subcommittee Chairman Tom Petri, R-Wis., pointed to a Congressional Budget Office report that suggests the trust fund will soon require another transfer of general funds to keep it afloat – bringing the total of general fund transfers to $53 billion dating back to the first shortfall in 2008.

Subcommittee members discussed options that include fuel taxes and other transportation user fees, tolling, federal DOT grants and loans, and a possible VMT tax.

Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., both asked about VMT. During an exchange with Davis, Trottenberg said there was currently “no movement” in Washington to pursue a national VMT tax.

Davis asked about Oregon, a state that did a VMT tax pilot program and recently moved to allow 5,000 participants to volunteer for a mileage tax while opting out of the state fuel tax.

Trottenberg said Oregon’s VMT program will not likely find its way to a national stage.

Her position on VMT taxes remains consistent with the administration’s position dating back to 2009, when the White House press office curtailed a suggestion from then Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that the nation seek out a VMT program.

Congress is currently discussing ways to fund the next highway bill, as the two-year, $109 billion MAP-21, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, expires in 2014.

According to Kim P. Cawley of the Congressional Budget Office, the highway account of the Highway Trust Fund continues to take in less than it spends as per the levels outlined in MAP-21. By the year 2023, the accumulated shortfall could approach $100 billion without a new funding source.

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