Blumenauer: Let’s Stop Hiding in Fear of a Mileage Fee

In June, the House of Representatives voted to ban U.S. DOT from even studying the viability of switching from the gas tax to a vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) fee. But the tide may be turning: The sponsor of the amendment, Rep. Chip Cravaack, has been ousted from Congress, the amendment itself is on the skids, and a new bill would actually require the government to study the VMT option.

A dashboard-mounted transponder like this can record mileage. Photo: ##http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2007/01/02/mileagetax/##ODOT##

The ban had been attached to a 2013 budget bill which still hasn’t passed. As Congress seeks to re-open negotiations on the budget, it appears House leaders are scuttling it. Transportation Appropriations Subcommitee Chair Tom Latham – himself a big supporter of the ban on researching a VMT fee — told Politico last Friday that the language was “not an issue.”

Also on Friday, Rep. Earl Blumenauer introduced a bill [PDF] mandating that the Treasury Department — not U.S. DOT — study the option. The choice of Treasury is a reasonable one, since it’s a revenue issue — and it would circumvent Cravaack’s ban on a DOT study, even if it does survive.

President Obama has resisted switching to a VMT fee, specifically walking back a DOT idea to study the option last year. But incoming Transportation Committee Chair Bill Shuster has said a mileage-based user fee is a “fair” way to pay for transportation infrastructure. He may come up against vehement opposition from rural members of his own party if he tries to pursue it.

Blumenauer’s home state of Oregon has taken the lead on testing a VMT fee as an alternative to taxing gasoline, which will become a less viable way to fund transportation as vehicles become more fuel-efficient. In a press release, Blumenauer lamented the $48 billion in bailouts transportation has required over the past four years and the $15 billion it will likely need at the end of the current transportation law.

Sensitive to privacy concerns often expressed about vehicles being outfitted with transponders, Blumenauer’s bill suggests that a national pilot program be evaluated, first and foremost, on the basis of the protection of personal privacy. It also recommends public acceptance, equity, and usability as criteria.

The bill wouldn’t broaden Oregon’s pilot to other states, per se, but would make grants to universities and manufacturers to develop the technology that could be used to measure mileage and transfer payments to the government. The program would cost $155 million.

Blumenauer’s proposal could get a vote on the floor as a standalone bill or remain on the table as a possible provision in the next transportation authorization.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

T&I Chair Bill Shuster Complicates Matters With Push for VMT Fee

|
All options may be on the table for funding transportation, but Bill Shuster has chosen his. Rep. Shuster, head of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, hasn’t been willing to commit to any one proposal for funding transportation until now. And his choice may make things complicated. At a Bloomberg Government event yesterday, Shuster came […]

Ten Questions (and Answers) About Oregon’s New VMT Charge

|
This summer, Oregon’s legislature passed a bill creating a vehicle-miles-traveled fee. For those who recognize the shortcomings of the gas tax for charging for road use, it was a big victory. But the program authorized by the state is a modest one, creating a voluntary program for just 5,000 drivers of high-efficiency vehicles. ODOT’s Jim […]

Obama Wants to Study Viability of Mileage-Based Fee for Transpo Revenue

|
Thanks to The Hill and CQ for reading President Obama’s transportation bill draft [PDF] more thoroughly than I did – they discovered a significant detail that I’d missed. Despite his administration’s insistence that they won’t consider an increase in the gas tax or other user fees, Obama’s bill includes language establishing a Surface Transportation Revenue […]

Well That Was Quick: Obama Disavows Mileage Fee Proposal

|
The Hill is reporting that the Obama administration has already sworn off a move toward a vehicle-miles-traveled fee. We just reported that an undated draft of the administration transportation proposal included the creation of an office to study the feasibility of implementing such a system to replace the traditional fuel tax. The Hill’s Keith Laing […]