PORTLAND, Ore. – Oregon is among a growing number of states exploring ways to tax drivers based on the number of miles they drive instead of how much gas they use, even going so far as to install GPS monitoring devices in 300 vehicles. The idea first emerged nearly 10 years ago as Oregon lawmakers worried that fuel-efficient cars such as gas-electric hybrids could pose a threat to road upkeep, which is paid for largely with gasoline taxes.
The proposal is not without critics, including drivers who are concerned about privacy and others who fear the tax could eliminate the financial incentive for buying efficient vehicles.
The National Commission on Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing is considering calling for higher gas taxes to keep highways, bridges and transit programs in good shape.
But over the long term, commission members say, the nation should consider taxing mileage rather than gasoline as drivers use more fuel-efficient and electric vehicles.
As cars burn less fuel, “the gas tax isn’t going to fill the bill,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Yeah, let’s provide less incentive for more fuel-efficient cars, that makes a lot of sense. Remove the tax on gas, thereby creating cheaper gas so people will use more of it, and make up for it by taxing equally the Hummer driver chewing up 100 miles of road as we do the little Prius driver lightly-scooting over 100 miles of road.
Here’s a better idea: set the gas tax to be equal to however much money you need to keep the roads maintained this month, divided by gallons of gas used last month. This month, roads cost X, last month, gas used = Y, so the gas tax is X/Y% per gallon.
As more people drive hybrids, less gas overall is used. As X is constant or increasing to keep up with road repair needs, and Y declines, X/Y% becomes larger. More incentive to get a hybrid and less gas will be used, but X coming in to maintain roads remains relatively constant.
Soon, with electric cars and other non-gas cars become even more desirable to get around the exorbitant X/Y% gas tax, X/Y% becomes a luxury tax for owning any gas car. Eventually, gas cars are extinct and by then I hope we have flying Jetsons cars, transporters, or we’ve learned to turn most of our defense budget into infrastructure projects.