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Why We Don't Need a Mileage Tax

This idea of taxing people for the miles they drive is back in the news. From The Washington Post:
The flow of the gas tax pipeline that has poured cash into one of the world's premier highway systems has slowed as some people drive less and others choose more fuel-efficient vehicles. Maintaining that aging network and tackling the rush-hour congestion afflicting most cities will require billions of dollars. As gas tax revenue dwindles, federal and state lawmakers have an option created by innovative new technology: charge the nation's 201 million drivers for every mile they travel.That prospect was raised last year by a congressional commission, a Brookings Institution report and a highly regarded nonpartisan transportation research group.
Andrew Samwick over at Capital Games and Gains is skeptical:
The appropriate tax instrument to make up for declining or inadequate gas tax revenues is ... a higher gas tax rate. Compared to a higher gas tax rate, a tax on miles driven ignores the amount of fuel used to drive those miles. Highway travel is taxed the same as city travel. Gas guzzlers are taxed the same as hybrids. Neither change makes any sense from an environmental perspective. Nor is it necessary to raise issues of privacy involved in collecting a tax on miles driven in the ways suggested in the article by monitoring the history of the locations of the car (as opposed to an annual fee based on an odometer reading collected at a state inspection).
I'm glad to hear this view endorsed by a respected economist because it's also been my view: Let's just keep ratcheting up gas taxes instead of moving to a mileage tax. In the states that have lost tax revenue because they've reduced gas consumption, small increases in the gas tax would make up the shortfall, and that way we keep the pressure on to reduce carbon. Our gas taxes are ridiculously low anyway. And if states are losing tax revenue because driving is down, well, a mileage tax wouldn't help anyway.If we somehow get to a place where we're all driving Volts and Teslas and there's just no money for infrastructure despite a Netherlands-style gas tax, that'll be one of those good problems.Photo (cc) from Flickr user Mr Michael Phams.

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