So What Does He Think of Cap & Trade?

Good news and bad news for drivers from federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The good news is:

LaHood said he firmly opposes raising the federal gasoline tax in the current recession.

The bad news is that, because people are using less gas as they switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles and just plain drive less, LaHood is thinking of taxing us according to how many miles we drive – a VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) Tax. Now in some ways, this is a more equitable taxation scheme to fund road maintenance than the gas tax – it’s more reflective of the amount you use the road – and is therefore less objectionable, especially if it replaces rather than supplements the gas tax. However, it comes with a host of ramifications.

Most seriously, it will entail government surveillance of our driving habits. So there are obvious civil liberty concerns. Older Britons – and not so old – will remember the government asking them, “Is your journey really necessary?” This will give the government the chance to ask that question more directly.

More generally, the tax may be self-defeating. It will serve as a disincentive to drive, thereby reducing the amount it raises. For those who have to drive long distances, because they have a long commute or because their job requires it in other ways, it will also serve as a burden on economic activity (although perhaps no more than the current gas tax). Environmentalists may worry that it will reduce the incentive to switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles. While this would probably be a good thing in terms of road safety, environmentalists are not ones to let 2000 deaths a year get in the way of their war on oil, so my betting is that the VMT tax will, in fact, supplement a gas tax, putting your journey in double jeopardy.

Finally, if the Secretary is so opposed to a gas tax, what does he think of cap-and-trade of greenhouse gas emissions, which will be functionally equivalent to a gas tax? That’s administration policy. So it looks like the Secretary is actually in favor of a gas tax, as long as we don’t call it that.

UPDATE: I meant to include a few words about an even better idea. The redoubtable Jerry Taylor has instead done it for me at The Corner: T

hat said, there is an even better reform — get rid of federal gasoline taxes altogether and send all road construction and maintenance programs back to the states. All the bridges to nowhere, all the Robert Byrd memorial thises and thats, all the corruption associated with log-rolling transportation earmarks in Congress . . . all goes away. Alas, not even the late, great President George W. Bush dared entertain such an idea, and with all roads to recovery thought to come out of some shovel-ready highway somewhere, LaHood most certainly won’t go there.