03.01.2018 0

What could possibly go wrong with the government having access to real-time tracking data of every U.S. citizen with a car?

By Printus LeBlanc

As the Trump administration looks for ways to fund infrastructure projects, the Economic Report to the President hinted at one of the options the administration may be looking at. Pages 184-186 highlight a program in Oregon that charges drivers based on the miles driven instead of being taxed at the gas pump. This is a horrendous idea that will more than likely lead to government overreach and more wasteful spending.

Coincidently, Oregon introduced the first gas tax in the nation at $0.01 per gallon in 1919. Within ten years all states instituted a gas tax. The federal government got into the act with the passage of the Revenue Act of 1932 by taxing multiple items including gas. Since then the federal government has raised the gas tax several times to where it stands today at $0.184 for gas and $0.244 for diesel. States have also continued to increase the tax with Pennsylvania leading the nation at $0.582 per gallon. This tax revenue goes into what is known as the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for highway maintenance and new transportation projects.

Now many states and the federal government are saying this is not enough. There are a few problems with is this argument. The first is the states and the federal government instituted regulations that were going to decrease the amount of gas consumed by consumers.

In response to the 1973-74 oil embargo, Congress established the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards in 1975 when it passed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. The legislation was an attempt to increase the fuel economy of U.S. vehicles thereby reducing dependence on foreign oil. It accomplished the feat by gradually raising fuel efficiency levels of the various vehicle categories.

As fuel economy increased, CAFÉ standards had the unintended consequence of putting people on the road longer, increasing the wear and tear on the road system, while not collecting extra revenue. Greater fuel efficiency means fewer fill-ups, which equals less revenue.

The second problem with the highway fund is the money is not being spent on road projects, with approximately 25 percent of the fund being diverted to non-highway projects. The Mass Transit Account spends billions on buses, streetcars, and other boondoggles that do not have a return on investment. In fact, it is next to impossible to find mass transit project in the U.S. that is not hemorrhaging funds. The District of Columbia is considering scrapping its streetcar project after spending hundreds of millions over several years on the barely used rail line.

The Surface Transportation Block Grant Program (STBG), formally the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), is another account siphoning from the HTF. The STBG is responsible for hundreds of millions in bike paths, recreational trails, and scenic overlooks. Gas taxes have gone to grants for squirrel sanctuaries ($112,000), driving simulators ($198,000), and resurfacing of bike paths ($900,000). Once again, projects that should be the responsibility of the local government and not the federal government.

To make up the spending gaps, the Trump administration has highlighted the pilot program in Oregon. The program charges $0.017 per mile driven on state roads. Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, Kevin Hassett described the program as “innovative” in a recent conference call.

The problem with the program is the only way to know when someone is on a state road or a federal highway is to track them with GPS. Do the American people really want to give governments the ability to track their every move?

Governments at all levels instituted regulations that reduced gas tax revenue while wasting funds on non-highway projects, and the response is to institute a tracking program that collects data on when and where people drive. What could possibly go wrong with allowing the government to track your every movement?

Printus LeBlanc is a contributing editor at Americans for Limited Government.

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