Possible VP Pick Pawlenty: Per Mile Tax Might Replace Gas Tax

     The high price of gas has driven down demand. Now politicians like Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty are worried gas taxes might not be able to fund infrastructure projects.


     Pawlenty proposed a consumption tax on driving as a possible replacement for the gasoline tax. He is rumored to be a possible running mate for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain.


     “[S]o we’re going to have to think about how do you charge for transportation in the future when cars aren’t going to be, are increasingly not going to be fueled by gasoline,” Pawlenty said in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., August 6. “The use of gasoline is plateauing and declining. That’s going to accelerate as we move to plug-in electrics, as we move to more hybrid cars, as we move to more fuel-efficient cars and other forms of transportation.”


     One of the ideas Pawlenty mentioned as a possible fix was a mileage-based fee tracked by global positioning system (GPS) devices or other electronic means.


     The  state of Oregon launched a GPS-based tax in 2006. Civil libertarians have raised privacy concerns over the idea of government tracking drivers. Pawlenty didn’t issue a verdict on Oregon’s pilot program, but suggested a similar one could work.


     “And so the gasoline tax as a workhorse for transportation funding I think is going to dissipate And we’re going to have to be more creative,” Pawlenty said. “Oregon’s got a pilot project up and running. I don’t know what to think of it yet ’cause the results aren’t in. But they’re charging by miles driven without regard to fuel source – using some GPS or electronic odometer readings. And you can preferentially price if you want to encourage more hybrid or fuel-efficient vehicles. You can offer a preferential price for that per mile as compared to something that’s bigger, heavier or a truck.”


     Pawlenty didn’t see the revival of the gasoline tax as a sustainable revenue source to fund infrastructure repairs.


     “So, the idea that we’re going to ride the gas tax, first of all, is politically untenable and it’s, as a matter of policy, it’s diminishing in relative and I think absolute terms,” Pawlenty said.


     On Aug. 1, 2007, during Pawlenty’s tenure as governor, the I-35W bridge spanning the Mississippi in Minneapolis, Minn., collapsed. Six people died in the tragedy.


     The collapse prompted some in the media to call for higher taxes and up to $1.6 trillion in government spending to update infrastructure. The federal government had already failed to keep infrastructure sound, but journalists like Katie Couric suggested more government was the answer.


     “Are taxpayers ready to spend the billions, maybe trillions, it would take to fix all the pipelines, tunnels and bridges?” Couric asked on the CBS “Evening News” Aug. 2, 2007.


     On Aug. 3, 2007, NBC “Today” show host Meredith Vieira called for more money as well, claiming that “we don’t seem to have the funds or the wherewithal to repair our bridges.”


     But the former New York City Department of Transportation chief engineer Vieira was interviewing disagreed. “We need less money,” Sam Schwartz said. “What do I mean by that is we need to spend the money wisely. We have to spend it on maintenance.”