By Joan Lowy
WASHINGTON (AP) — A House committee chairman said that he wants Congress to enact a mileage-based tax on cars and trucks to pay for highway programs now rather than wait years to test the idea.
Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., said he believes the technology exists to implement a mileage tax. He said he sees no point in waiting years for the results of pilot programs since such a tax system is inevitable as federal gasoline tax revenues decline.
"Why do we need a pilot program? Why don't we just phase it in?" said Oberstar, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman. Oberstar is drafting a six-year transportation bill to fund highway and transit programs that is expected to total around a half trillion dollars.
A congressionally mandated commission on transportation financing alternatives recommended switching to a vehicle-miles traveled tax, but estimated it would take a decade to put a national system in place.
"I think it can be done in far less than that, maybe two years," Oberstar said at a House hearing. He was responding to testimony by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who recommended that the transportation bill include pilot programs in every state to test the viability of a mileage-based tax.
Blumenauer said public acceptance, not technology, is the main obstacle to a mileage-based tax.
Pilot programs "would be able to increase public awareness and comfort and it would hasten the day we could make the transition," Blumenauer said.
Oberstar shrugged off that concern.
"I'm at a point of impatience with more studies," Oberstar said. He suggested that Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the highways and transit subcommittee, set up a meeting of transportation experts and members of Congress to figure out how it could be done.