Which way would you rather pay, by the gallon or by the mile?

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 12/3/2013

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., is preparing to file a pair of bills that would fund infrastructure during the short- and long-term. One bill involves an increase in federal fuel taxes to address immediate needs, while the second bill calls for a pilot program to explore a tax on vehicle miles traveled, or VMT. Blumenauer plans to file the bills on Wednesday, Dec. 4.

Blumenauer cites the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund as the motivating factor behind the short- and long-term approaches. The Congressional Budget Office has said the trust fund will be broke sometime in 2015, about a year after the current highway and transportation authorization law known as MAP-21 expires.

MAP-21, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, which Congress approved in 2012, provided two years of funding at $109 billion. It is set to expire in September 2014.

Blumenauer points out that the Highway Trust Fund has received upward of $50 billion from the general Treasury in recent years, dating back to the previous transportation law known as SAFETEA-LU.

Although MAP-21 did not increase the funding, it included many important reforms such as ensuring that more highway money should stay with highways.

“We should end the transfer of General Fund dollars to the Highway Trust Fund, phase in a short-term gas tax increase, and set the stage for a transition for a long-term, stable funding source that will replace the gas tax,” Blumenauer stated in information about the bill. “Americans cannot afford to continue to disinvest in our infrastructure.”

In regard to long-term stability, Blumenauer suggests a tax on vehicle miles traveled, or VMT. He points to the recommendations from two commissions appointed during the SAFETEA-LU era that call for a VMT tax to phase out the fuel tax in the future.

Blumenauer’s home state of Oregon is one of six states that have conducted voluntary pilot programs for motorists to pay by VMT while opting out of the per-gallon fuel tax. Blumenauer’s bill calls for Congress to explore mileage fees by conducing what he calls the Road User Fee Pilot Project.

Not everyone is sold on the idea of a VMT tax, because it essentially converts each mile people drive into a toll road, plus there’s no guarantee that lawmakers would actually phase out or eliminate the fuel tax.

Many people and groups are also concerned about driver privacy and the possibility that their vehicles would be tracked by GPS or some other system that would log their mileage and location.

Supporters of the fuel tax say it’s still the fairest way to pay and does not require additional bureaucracy.

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