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Road Tax – per gallon or per mile?

On his radio show and in his blog, Clark Howard discusses a proposal to replace the current per gallon gasoline tax with a tax assessed per mile driven.

There are two “problems”  with the current scheme.  First, the gas guzzlers effectively pay more per mile, since they get fewer miles per gallon. Second, as gas mileage goes up the tax receipts per mile driven go down.  Since gas mileage is governmentally mandated to rise, tax revenue will fall, or at least not go up enough.

The first “problem” (guzzlers pay more tax) is actually a good thing, as gas mileage is a reasonable proxy for weight, and heavier cars do more damage to the roads so should be taxed more for road maintenance.  The second “problem” (improved mileage lowers tax receipts) does appear realistic, although the real solution (increase the per gallon rate) is a political problem.   Which brings us to the rub … if the road taxes collected aren’t sufficient to maintain the roads properly, then road taxes have to increase. My suspicion is that this proposed change, while couched in “fairness”, is just a sneaky attempt to increase the taxes we pay.

I don’t care whether the tax is based on miles driven or gallons guzzled, and I am willing to pay my share for road maintenance.  However, I am concerned about a GPS device in my car will track my miles (and my location!).  This is clearly not acceptable.  I could support a mileage surcharge with the registration, but I think that collection at the pump makes the most sense. I can support a mileage tax, as long as it isn’t implemented in addition to the existing gasoline tax.  However, it should take vehicle weight into account, as heavier vehicles wear down the road faster than light-weight vehicles.

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