Obama administration nixes vehicle-mile tax concept for now

| 2/23/2009

This past week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told The Associated Press that he was considering the replacement of the federal fuel tax with a new tax assessed on miles traveled.

But during a daily press briefing on Friday, Feb. 20, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said President Obama will not be pursuing a tax on miles traveled.

“I can weigh in on it and say that it is not and will not be the policy of the Obama administration,” Gibbs told reporters.

LaHood’s public affairs director, Lori Irving, followed up by saying LaHood’s statement about the VMT tax was part of a lengthy interview on a wide range of transportation and funding topics.

Discussion of a vehicle-miles tax, also known as a VMT tax, is nothing new.

Three years ago, the Bush administration and Congressional leaders appointed a 12-member commission, the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, to make recommendations leading up to the next transportation reauthorization bill, which is due in Congress in September of this year.

A majority of commissioners stated in their January 2008 report that the fuel tax should be increased by 45 cents per gallon by 2015 but be replaced altogether by a VMT tax by 2025.

The theory behind the recommendation was that a per-gallon tax on fuel becomes less reliable over time as Americans drive fewer miles and turn to more efficient vehicles.

Officials with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association say the federal fuel tax continues to be the easiest and fairest way to fund surface transportation.

OOIDA officials acknowledge that a mileage tax may someday replace the per-gallon tax, but say now is not the right time.

Meanwhile, a second federally appointed commission is expected to release its recommendations to Congress later this week on the topic of transportation funding.

– By David Tanner, staff writer