Buttigieg: Hey, never mind about my proposed mileage tax

Does this count as “something of a backtrack,” as Jake Tapper noted in his interview with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg? You bet it does. After floating both a mileage tax and a gas tax as possible fundraisers for Joe Biden’s upcoming $3 trillion infrastructure boondoggle, Buttigieg hit reverse last night. After getting earfuls on the regressive nature of such taxes, not to mention oppressive in the former case, Buttigieg backtracked and insisted that no tax increases would hit anyone below the $400K income level.

Pick this up at the four-minute mark:

TAPPER: So, nobody who makes under $400,000 a year will see a tax increase. You said also that a mileage tax showed — quote — “a lot of promise” as a way to help pay for the plan. That tax would charge people for how many miles they drive. Is that under consideration?

BUTTIGIEG: No, that’s not part of the conversation about this infrastructure bill, so just want to make sure that’s really clear.

But you will be hearing a lot more details in the coming days about how we envision being able to fund this. And, again, these are carefully thought-through, responsible ideas that ultimately are going to be a win for the economy, and need to be compared to the unaffordable cost of the status quo.

TAPPER: OK, so something of a backtrack on that. Let me ask you about, is there a possible increase in the gas tax? That’s a tax that has not been raised in years, as you know. Is that under consideration?

BUTTIGIEG: No. And, again, I want to reiterate the president’s central commitment here. If you’re making less than $400,000 a year, this proposal will not involve a tax increase for you.

I’m surprised it took this long to hit reverse. The mileage tax proposal keeps popping up, only to die a deserved death on several grounds. The regressive nature of the tax is one reason; it mainly targets people who need to commute to work, and increasingly that means working-class employees who cannot do their work from home. That’s not the only reason, though; a mileage tax would be unconscionably intrusive, as I have written for almost twelve years now. It popped up often enough in the Barack Obama administration that House Republicans at one point wrote legislative language preventing Transportation from even developing the idea.

Ten years ago, I explained why this was a bad idea, especially when self-declaring mileage wouldn’t suffice for tax purposes:

One shudders to think what happens when the IRS gets your annual mileage wrong and a taxpayer disputes the record.  Where were you on the night of April 19th, Canarsie?  We show you drove 6.3 miles to Bada-Bing Strip Club in New Jersey. Even if exact destinations aren’t recorded (earlier suggestions were to use GPS devices), the taxpayer would get hit with a massive bill during the annual tax-preparation ritual with little or no chance to dispute the claims of the government.

Plus, let’s talk about equipment costs, both private and public.  This new tax system would require tracking equipment in every vehicle, which would mean retrofit costs for current vehicles and higher prices for new cars immediately.  What are the unemployed supposed to do — stop driving?  That should help when it comes to looking for work.

The government will either have to use GPS devices (that will track and record destination data) or install tollbooth passes every few miles on every road in America. The IRS will also have to set up an enforcement bureau to ensure that drivers don’t disable their tracking systems.  In California, this meant that every driver had to get biennial emission-control equipment inspections, an expensive waste of time and money for most drivers.  Will the IRS, which is just now branching out into the health-insurance inspection business, add a national DMV bureau as well?

Finally, do we really want to live in a country where the federal government virtually follows you everywhere you go?  Growing up in the Cold War, that’s what we were told the Soviet Union was like.  It will be the high-tech version of internal travel documents, or at the very least puts that power in the hands of the federal government.

Of course, now we’re considering the internal travel document idea too, thanks to the pandemic. The mileage tax isn’t the only bad, oppressive idea to keep popping up.