Much ado about a mileage tax

| 2/24/2009

Now is not the time to rule out replacing the federal fuel tax with a tax on mileage according to a powerful member of the U.S. House as he defended statements made this past week by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-MN, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, criticized the way White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs dismissed LaHood’s suggestion that a mileage-based tax be considered as part of the funding discussion.

“He had the temerity to think ... and what did he get? Slapped down,” Oberstar said of LaHood during a conference of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. “He’s a good man, a decent man. Don’t let him get slapped down by know-nothings.”

Late this past week, The Associated Press quoted LaHood as saying the U.S. Department of Transportation should consider a number of funding options, including a tax on vehicle miles traveled, or VMT.

Gibbs dismissed the statement at a White House press briefing on Friday, Feb. 20, saying the Obama administration would not be pursuing a mileage tax at this time.

That prompted Oberstar, who stands to write a substantial portion of the next highway funding reauthorization bill this year, to come to LaHood’s defense.

“I’ve got news for you,” Oberstar said. “Transportation policy isn’t going to be written in the press room of the White House.

The next highway reauthorization bill is due in Congress later this year to determine the next five or more years of transportation funding and policy.

Oberstar and the T&I Committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. John Mica of Florida, say the committee and staff could produce bill language as soon as May, leaving time for debate before the current authorization bill known as SAFETEA-LU expires at the end of September.

Officials with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association believe the fuel tax is still the fairest way to tax highway users to pay for transportation programs.

“The federal fuel tax, for the foreseeable future, remains the fairest, most effective and most efficient way of providing revenue for our nation’s transportation needs,” said OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs Mike Joyce. “It just needs to be spent more responsibly.”

– By David Tanner, staff writer