When Republicans get together they talk a lot about how much Democrats love to find new and novel ways to raise taxes. This talk could almost risk becoming a worn-out cliché, except that when it comes to new ways to tax Americans, Democrats just can’t help themselves.
Case in point: as if the money collected from income taxes, corporate taxes, excise taxes, death taxes, gas taxes and the like were not enough, the White House is now floating a new tax trial balloon: taxing automobiles on a per-mile-driven basis. What's that all about, you ask? It means that, if the White House and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad have their way – you would be taxed when you buy your car, pay taxes for the gas you put in your car and then be taxed on every mile driven, while using your car. In other words, the government would literally get you coming and going.
The White House, of course, says it does not support such a tax, nor would it even support the proposal it has proposed.
“This was an early working draft proposal that was never formally circulated within the administration,” a White House spokeswoman said.
Perhaps this lack of, uh, formality (similar to informally meeting a lobbyist at a nearby Caribou Coffee to skirt those pesky, and formal, openness and transparency rules) is because the White House knows the public is not eager for any new taxes, especially, at a time when gas costs $4 per gallon, or for anything else from the government that would make automobile travel more expensive. No doubt the White House and Democrats believe that while the petulant children they see as today’s taxpayers do not want to take this “medicine,” it is in their best interest. But for the public to swallow this, it will require a full court press – something the draft proposal would make provisions and appropriations for.
The $300 million study the draft proposal calls for would seek to, and I'm quoting now from the draft itself, “increase public awareness regarding the need for an alternative funding source for surface transportation programs and provide information on possible approaches.”
Translation from Legislation-Speak: “Open wide for propaganda telling you why you should pay a new tax and why you will be grateful for paying it.” This propaganda has, of course, been paid for by you.
And while the tax itself would surely be unpopular, the potential implementation of a per-mile road tax could prove even more objectionable. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has suggested the Vehicle Miles Traveled tax – yes, the VMT – could be calculated by installing an electronic device in each individual automobile to calculate the miles driven.
This poses real problems: Who would pay for such equipment? Would it be incumbent on a car owner to purchase one at a local DMV or even an Auto Zone? If so, would there be a rebate, similar to the H.D. converter box rebate? Or, would such a device be included with the purchase or lease of a car, leading to a “Vehicle Mileage Meter” fee added to the price? However the logistics were worked out, the answer to the question of who would pay for the device is easy: it's YOU. No doubt that would be a problem, too, for you.
More substantively, the government-mandated electronic devices could potentially track a driver’s movements. As the recent controversy over iPhones tracking their users’ locations demonstrates – and those critical of reauthorization of the Patriot Act would no doubt quickly echo – any such government “electronic bracelet” would be unacceptable.
As we head toward Memorial Day weekend later this month and the start of America's peak travel season, it’s not hard to envision some of the real-life problems the proposal would cause: practically guaranteeing fist fights over whose car would be driven on long road trips so as to save a few bucks (Maybe the proposal could be called the “No, Dude, You’re Driving Act of 2011”) – and just think how that would drive up health care costs.
A veteran of political campaigns throughout the nation, Doug Heye has served as a press secretary and communications director in the United States Senate, House of Representatives and the Executive Branch. He most recently served as Communications Director for the Republican National Committee.