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New tax on number of miles you drive? Incoming Transportation Secretary Buttigieg likes the idea

Buttigieg endorsed moving to a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) system as a presidential candidate.

Updated: January 24, 2021 - 3:45pm

Incoming Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has suggested taxing Americans for the number of miles they drive, a policy he endorsed as a Democratic presidential candidate.

The Biden Administration is actively searching for ways to fund its ambitious $1 trillion infrastructure plan. 

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., acknowledged "privacy concerns" related to implementing a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) system but said it should be considered as a potential replacement for the gas tax. 

During Buttigieg's confirmation hearing in the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on Thursday, Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott asked him if he would support increasing the federal gas tax, which is currently charged to drivers in addition to state gas taxes. The federal gas and diesel tax is the primary source of funding for the Federal Highway Trust Fund.

"I think all options need to be on the table, as you know, the [federal] gas tax has not been increased since 1993, and it has never been pegged to inflation, and it's one of the reasons why the current state of Highway Trust Fund is that there's more going out than coming in," Buttigieg replied. "In the long term, we need to bear in mind also that as vehicles become more efficient and as we pursue electrification, sooner or later, there will be questions about whether the gas tax can be effective at all."

The state of Virginia has started charging a "highway use fee" to drivers with vehicles that the state government deems "fuel-efficient," including gas and diesel vehicles. The fee varies based on how fuel-efficient the government determines the vehicle to be, and the government can adjust the tax rate as it chooses. 

A source in Virginia's Department of Transportation told Just the News last year that VDOT is studying how to implement a system to tax drivers for the specific number of miles they drive, similar to the one Buttigieg has suggested.

Buttigieg said tying the gas tax to inflation as well as the VMT model would be considered by the Biden Administration.

"A lot has been suggested recently about the idea of vehicle-miles-traveled-based, so if we're committed to the idea of user-pays, then part of how you might do that would be based on vehicle miles traveled [VMT]," he said. "But that raises, of course, concerns about privacy and there remains some technological questions too. These are examples of some of the things that could be part of the solution, but I know that's going to have to be a conversation, not only in the administration, but with Congress too."

To implement a VMT system, the federal government would likely have to establish a uniform in-car system for tracking the number of miles a driver travels similar to the EZ-Pass transponder that drivers put in their vehicles to pay tolls.

In 2009, then-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood floated a VMT system, but it never came to fruition. 

As a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, Buttigieg supported banning the sale of gas and diesel vehicles altogether in the United States by 2035.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who dropped out of the race for her party's 2020 presidential nomination before the first votes were cast, also had a plan to require every vehicle sold in the U.S. to be "zero-emissions" vehicles by 2035. President Joe Biden had a plan to do the same by an unspecified date.