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More Experts Back LaHood’s Mileage Tax Proposal

The National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission, established by Congress “to address the growing transportation infrastructure investment deficit,” released a report today advocating a 10-cent gas tax, to be replaced by a vehicle mileage tax in 2020.

According to the report, the Highway Trust Fund is facing a $400 billion deficit over the next five years, and the $40 billion provided by the stimulus for transportation improvements can only support the fund for three months. A broader long-term solution is needed, and the 15 experts on the commission recommend “immediate augmentation” of current funding measures — including the gas tax — followed by a pay-by-the-mile tax on drivers beginning in 2020.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood proposed a mileage tax last week but was quickly rebuffed by the White House, and the tax was largely disparaged in the press. I dug deeper into this issue and found that a number of energy and transportation experts backed the mileage tax as the most sensible and forward-thinking approach to the highway budget shortfall. The commission’s report provides further validation of this perspective.

However, it appears unlikely that the commission’s recommendations will be put into effect. On the campaign trail, then-candidate Barack Obama pledged not to raise the gas tax because it would place “additional burdens on American families” in hard economic times. And when White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about a mileage tax last Friday, he responded, “It is not and will not be the policy of the Obama administration.”

Perhaps the urging of congressionally appointed experts will give them pause to reconsider.

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