EDITORIAL: Spies on your drive

States look to replace gas tax with GPS tax

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Talk about a liberal conundrum. If liberals succeed in forcing Americans into electric cars and tiny econo-boxes, it will starve state and federal gas tax revenue. In order to bridge the monetary gap, state and federal bureaucrats are considering the most Orwellian solution possible, a “vehicle miles traveled” tax.

As millions of Americans hit the road to take advantage of the upcoming three-day weekend, bureaucrats are dreaming of the day when they can install an electronic Internal Revenue Service agent in everyone’s passenger seat. Charging motorists based on their road usage as measured by miles traveled would likely be done through a GPS device attached to each vehicle that would regularly phone in a travel record to the appropriate government agency for billing purposes.

It’s an idea favored by state and federal bean-counters who’ve been in a panic ever since a Congressional Budget Office study estimated gas-tax revenue would evaporate to just one-fifth of current levels by 2040. Perhaps bureaucrats and politicians should have thought of that before getting in the business of subsidizing electric cars and imposing unrealistic CAFE gas mileage mandates.

As with many threats to civil liberties, this is a bad idea shared by members of both political parties. Not long after President Obama chose Ray LaHood to be his first secretary of transportation, the former Republican congressman telegraphed his desire to impose a Big Brother GPS tax. Mr. Obama wasn’t ready to go down that road quite yet, so the idea was put on a temporary hold. Meanwhile, former Transportation Secretaries Norm Mineta and Samuel Skinner, one a Democrat and one a Republican, have called for a mileage tax, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Oregon Democrat, wants to spend $150 million to conduct a national study on the issue.

So far, 18 states have explored a mileage tax, with Oregon coming the closest to implementing it. The state is on its second pilot program, which has 5,000 volunteer drivers. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, this month said he wants the state to study road funding, including the Big Brother tax. These efforts are all premised on the idea that electric cars are inevitable. They’re not.

The gasoline tax is an ideal user fee. Those who use the roads pay according to how much they use it. A fuel tax rewards efficiency, costs nearly nothing to collect and creates no incentive for fraud. Supporters of the mileage tax say it can be done without using location tracking. That’s a promise as convincing as President Obama’s assurance that the National Security Agency hasn’t been spying on Americans.

Rather than destroy another privacy right, government needs to restrain its appetite for spending and for promoting the very projects that create a revenue shortfall.

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