Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) this week introduced legislation that would give states federal grants to study the possibility of imposing a controversial new tax — one that would tax people for every mile they drive in their cars.
Blumenauer's Road Usage Charge Pilot Program Act is the latest effort to move away from a gas tax, which some say is not creating enough revenues for federal and state highway projects, and toward a system of taxing cars based on how far they drive.
The idea has been debated on and off for years in Washington, but so far hasn't taken hold at the federal level. Last year, for example, the Congressional Budget Office released a report that raised the possibility of imposing a "VMT" system, which stands for "vehicle miles traveled."
The Obama administration proposed a federally run pilot program a few years ago, although the idea was a non-starter in the GOP House, and Republicans aren't expected to consider it any time soon. GOP leaders are generally tax-averse, and many have said a VMT system would raise privacy concerns, since people would have to report how far they drive to the government.
Lack of progress at the federal level might explain why Blumenauer is now trying to encourage states to experiment with similar programs, with the help of federal funds.
"Questions remain about how best to implement such a system, collect revenue, and address privacy concerns," he said. "Congress should encourage states to answer these questions through pilot projects."
Under his bill, the federal government would give states grants to states that could be used to research ways to move to a VMT system. A copy of his bill had not been released as of Friday, and Blumenauer's office did not reply to questions from TheBlaze about exactly how much grant money it proposes to give to states.
"Such a Road Usage Charge system would be more fair, a more accurate reflection of road use, and more sustainable for the long term, as fuel efficiency increases and hybrid and electric vehicles rise in popularity," Blumenauer said this week.
Some states are already experimenting with the idea of a VMT tax. According to the San Jose Mercury News, California is seriously considering a new tax based on how far people drive.
Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown agreed to a commission to study a "road usage charge," and that commission met last month. Several other states are running tests on how much they'd collect by taxing people based on how far they drive.
While Blumenauer is keen to move to a VMT tax, he's also still interested in raising the gas tax. He proposed a separate bill this week that would phase in a nickel-per-gallon tax increase over the next three years on gas and diesel.