LaHood goes under the bus on mileage tax

posted at 10:50 am on February 21, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Transportation Secretary Roy LaHood got tossed under the bus by his boss after suggesting that the Obama administration would roll out a mileage tax on American drivers.   The White House hurriedly denied any intention of pursuing a mileage tax, which would require massive intrusion into privacy and set up a Big Brother-like mechanism to track the movement of citizens (via Michelle):

President Barack Obama on Friday rejected his transportation secretary’s suggestion that the administration consider taxing motorists based on how many miles they drive instead of how much gasoline they buy.

“It is not and will not be the policy of the Obama administration,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters, when asked for the president’s thoughts about Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s suggestion, raised in an interview with The Associated Press a daily earlier.

Gasoline taxes that for nearly half a century have paid for the federal share of highway and bridge construction can no longer be counted on to raise enough money to keep the nation’s transportation system moving, LaHood told the AP.

“We should look at the vehicular miles program where people are actually clocked on the number of miles that they traveled,” the former Illinois Republican lawmaker said in the AP interview.

LaHood apparently didn’t check with Obama before shooting off his mouth.  It’s another amateurish stumble after Steven Chu’s sudden discovery that energy policy falls under his aegis as … Secretary of Energy.

The mileage tax as a replacement for the gas tax is a bad idea on several levels.  First, collection of the gas tax is relatively easy and uncomplicated; it’s levied at the pump and requires no particular compliance for tens of millions of drivers nationwide. It costs the federal government very little to collect and its enforcement is limited to the much lower number of fuel stations, rather than all of the drivers and autos in the US.

LaHood’s suggestion would be an enforcement and logistical nightmare.  A mileage tax would require the installation of GPS equipment on every motor vehicle and an enforcement bureaucracy to ensure that drivers didn’t disable it.  The cost of the devices would run to the billions just on the initial rollout.  The Obama administration would have to spend more millions, if not billions, tracking the mileage on all of these cars.

The privacy implications are the worst aspect of the idea.  The government would have a database tracking all of our movements, at least those made in personal vehicles, for their use.  At the end of the year, when we had to account for this tax, we would have no practical way of challenging the government data on which we’d be taxed.  Can you imagine having to produce a record of every single car trip you took in 2008 for an audit?  The tax burden would only come at the end of the year, in a balloon payment.

The wonder of this isn’t that the White House rebuked its own Transportation Secretary.  The wonder of this is that LaHood didn’t get canned.

Update: I wrote “Treasury” when I meant “Transportation”.  My apologies, and thanks to those who pointed it out.


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Comment pages: 1 2

…the former Illinois Republican lawmaker said in the AP interview.

And now you know why the Republican party in Illinois is dead.

Big John on February 21, 2009 at 5:25 PM

Forgive me if someone made this point on page one.

Isn’t the current system effectively a tax on mileage? You drive more, you use more gas. You drive a hybid you use less gas so you are taxed less for the same mileage as an SUV. The current system seems to address the “problem” nicely. If it’s not bringing in enough revenue, consider LOWERING the tax, so there is an incentive to drive more.

Oh wait, the real goal is make driving cost prohibitive to save the planet from greenhouse gases. My bad.

Ordinary1 on February 21, 2009 at 5:47 PM

The wonder of this isn’t that the White House rebuked its own Transportation Secretary. The wonder of this is that LaHood didn’t get canned.

Wow, dismiss your Transportation Secretary for making a suggestion?

ckoeber on February 21, 2009 at 7:01 PM

Ray LaHood was my republican representative in Peoria, Illinois. I have no doubt this suggestion was a carefully contrived move by the Obama administration to make BHO look centrist.

republicanmom on February 21, 2009 at 7:14 PM

Wow, thank goodness we got the stumbling bumbler out and elected the smartest person ever to lead us and pick his smartest ever cabinet to help him.

Now if they could tie their shoelaces without falling over I’d feel a bit more confident of their abilities.

This is just amazing… Obama is going to fully redeem Bush, and he’s going to do it in months, not years as I expected. He really is faster off the mark than I dreamed he could be.

gekkobear on February 21, 2009 at 9:59 PM

Wouldn’t a cabinet member check with the President first before announcing anything?

Oh, that would be “competent cabinet member”.

Dr. ZhivBlago on February 21, 2009 at 10:18 PM

Obama is going under the BUS on the Carbon Tax . . . We need to get ANGRY on this next one, as annnounced Saturday, all in the name of “Greenhouse” Emissions.

Corporate America needs to Buy some Congress people…..Pay to Play….

JayTee on February 21, 2009 at 10:37 PM

Fall guy for Obama on a trial balloon that went terribly wrong?

{^_-}

herself on February 22, 2009 at 4:12 AM

Ed, New Zealand has had a “mileage tax” for years. It’s called the Road User Charge (RUC) and is levied in 1000km increments, for any vehicle that uses diesel fuel, rather than a fuel tax at the pump.

The RUC fee can be paid in multiple 1000km increments. Drivers are given a card that goes on the windshield. If the vehicle is pulled over by police, and it is subject to RUC, police can cite the driver if the RUC card is “expired” by more than 500km from the odometer reading.

I don’t agree with the concept of RUC, but I wanted to show you that there is a way to tax mileage without requiring people to be tracked by satellite.

-Wanderlust

Wanderlust on February 22, 2009 at 6:04 AM

Start buying breeding mules.

trs on February 21, 2009 at 10:53 AM

Nitpicking here, but mules are sterile.

And even my thoroughbred won’t be able to get me to work since I drive 50+ miles.

Squiggy on February 22, 2009 at 6:45 AM

LaHood (RINO-IL)was floating a BO idea, trying to figure out how to keep revenues up if everyone started driving more fuel efficient cars. Every mid level middle class sales rep coast to coast gets another phantom tax. Every person who works where they can’t afford to live gets another hidden tax. It’s not a swap, it’s an increase on those who rely on their car to provide either a living or access to a living.

If we actually begin to use less energy across the board, our friendly all inclusive government will be forced to generate revenues somehow by changing the rules. And does anyone rationally think BP or ComEd will be okay with customers using 30% less product?

MarkT on February 22, 2009 at 9:33 AM

Fall guy for Obama on a trial balloon that went terribly wrong?

{^_-}

herself on February 22, 2009 at 4:12 AM

Yes. I absolutely believe so.

Ed, New Zealand has had a “mileage tax” for years. It’s called the Road User Charge (RUC) and is levied in 1000km increments, for any vehicle that uses diesel fuel, rather than a fuel tax at the pump.

The RUC fee can be paid in multiple 1000km increments. Drivers are given a card that goes on the windshield. If the vehicle is pulled over by police, and it is subject to RUC, police can cite the driver if the RUC card is “expired” by more than 500km from the odometer reading.

I don’t agree with the concept of RUC, but I wanted to show you that there is a way to tax mileage without requiring people to be tracked by satellite.

-Wanderlust

Wanderlust on February 22, 2009 at 6:04 AM

I’m not normally a conspiracy buff, but this idea being floated on both national and state levels, while making so little sense, worries me that the point is to track by satellite.

Texas Nick USN on February 23, 2009 at 1:34 PM

Comment pages: 1 2