Most experts agree that the way America funds infrastructure is broken. Many of our roads are in terrible shape. The Highway Trust Fund is nearly empty. Many local governments have difficulty paying for year-round road maintenance.
The reasons vary. The federal and state gas taxes have never been adjusted for inflation. Many states divert funds to use for other purposes such as transit and education. Automakers, the federal government, and at least one-third of state governments are pushing electric vehicles, which means no gas tax from those owners. Is a road user charge or a vehicle miles traveled tax the answer?
A VMT tax means that anytime you drive, you will be taxed by the mile. As soon as you leave your driveway and come back again, you will be assessed for every mile you drive. This also would likely be in addition to the federal and state tax you pay per gallon of fuel at the pump unless you are operating an electric vehicle.
How the government will assess that fee is still up in the air. It could be a monthly charge based on vehicle tracking, which means some sort of GPS-based monitoring. Your ‘privilege of driving fee’ could be paid yearly at the same time as your license plate renewal is due and after a vehicle inspection. (How intrusive and expensive would that be?)
Other road user charges might come into play too. If drivers are tracked by location and time of day, they could easily be hit with a traffic congestion surcharge. Portland, Oregon, is currently running a VMT experiment through the end of the summer on how this might work.
Auto privacy would also be a problem. Motorists would likely be tracked wherever they travel. Driving to a different state or even a different county might mean you pay different fees based on local assessments.
Whatever the case, the solution to assess a fee will not be as easy as paying at the gas pump as we do now.
Meeting climate goals to reduce vehicle emissions has prompted several states such as California and Minnesota to work on various schemes to reduce vehicle miles overall. A road user fee would likely be used as a stick to get us out of our cars (especially if the gas tax is retained for internal combustion-engined vehicles, creating double taxation against most drivers).
Rural Americans, in particular, would feel the brunt of a VMT tax. Just as rural broadband programs have been difficult to implement, rural vehicle electrification will be costly if not impractical.
The NMA has always supported the gas tax as the most practical and equitable method for funding highway infrastructure. Electric vehicle owners could be charged an annual amount covering their fair share of road and bridge upkeep.
A VMT tax would add billions of government administrative costs annually, open the door for the double taxation of most vehicle owners, create privacy issues for all motorists, and disadvantage rural communities.