All of that's changing, however, as vehicle travel is decreasing, fuel-economy standards are more stringent, and political opposition to increasing the fuel tax is strengthening. These factors have combined to decrease income to state and federal governments from the fuel tax and the highway infrastructure requires attention.
Wasn't the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 supposed to do that? Remember the plan? All of those "shovel ready" jobs that would lift the nation out of the economic morass created by President George W. Bush? But, The Motley Monk digresses.
Two analysts at the Reason Foundation, Robert W. Poole and Adrian T. Moore, suggest that it's time to replace the national fuel tax with a per-mile tax. Among the reasons:
- A fuel tax is paid regardless of whether a person actually travels on a highway, but a per-mile tax is a direct fee based upon actual use. Funding is funneled back to the highway providers in proportion to the actual number of miles driven on each road.
- A per-mile tax is sustainable for the long term. As fuel economy standards change or gasoline is replaced with different energy sources, revenue remains steady as it is directly related to the use of and needed maintenance of the highway system.
- Those who use highways and bridges will pay for them, while those who do not use those highways and bridges don't pay the costs of upkeep.
- Roads that need maintenance or to be expanded will have the need financing because roads used by more people generate more revenue.
- A per-mile tax will reduce traffic congestion, as demonstrated by pilot projects in various states.
The idea of a per-mile tax is intriguing. Basically, it operates like a toll road. How the tax is collect is a matter of concern, yes. Will odomoters be monitored by the federal government? Will every intersection have a satellite reader monitoring the mileage of each vehicle on every block?
But, go back to the idea itself. Remember how all of those proposed toll roads were originally sold to taxpayers? They were going to "pay for themselves" and once they did, the tolls would disappear? At least, that was how they were sold in Cook County, Illinois, in the late 1950s. All of a sudden, however, those toll roads became a jobs creator--subsidized by tolls--and, surely by pure happenstance, a source of political patronage jobs governed by union bosses. A whole cottage industry that subsidized the Cook County Democrat Machine then emerged. And, like all government programs, the number of toll roads has grown...and grown...and is continuing to grow...meaning more and more and more political patronage jobs, all subsidized by the people using those roads who whisk through toll booths at 50 mph if they have one of those transponders affixed to their windshields.
If the logic that Poole and Moore employ to the gasoline tax was applied to educating the nation's youth, it would be the parents of the children attending schools who would bear the cost. It's called "tuition," a use-based system for those using the schools. But, for many reasons, that logic was tossed aside in favor of a property tax.
Is the per-mile tax a good idea? Should it replace the fuel tax?
Let the discussion begin...
To read Robert W. Poole and Adrian T. Moore's analysis, click on the following link:
"Ten Reasons Why Per-Mile Tolling Is a Better Highway User Fee Than Fuel Taxes."