The federal government and several state-level entities have spent years trying to impose a new tax on drivers that would charge them for each mile driven, but a new bill from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., aims to shut down that aspiration for good.
Issa last week introduced the No Track No Tax Act, which bans the federal government from directing any funds toward the development of a system to track drivers and assess a tax for every mile driven.
Issa’s bill is a reaction to the San Diego County regional tansportation agency’s plan to tax drivers for every mile driven in order to raise billions in revenue to expand mass transit in that city. Issa says that sort of planning is an overreaching attempt by the government to force people out of their cars and into public transportation, and he notes that the San Diego agency has explicitly acknowledged the goal of trying to “change behavior.”
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But Issa is also sounding the alarm that the technology needed to implement a “vehicle miles traveled” tax, or VMT tax, would also give government officials the power to track people’s movement.
“The mileage tax is only enabled by a mileage tracker – a device that shadows drivers and captures everywhere they go,” Issa said. “This is a dangerous government intrusion, and the potential for abuse and the exposure of personal data may be limitless.”
“The very concept of tracking every American’s movement by position, by mile and then taxing them on it is a direction against the fundamentals of both our Constitution and the free flow of commerce,” Issa told Fox News Digital. “There’s already more than enough tracking in America, most of which requires a warrant.”
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Issa said his bill would likely be enough to stop officials in San Diego from moving ahead with their plan to tax drivers by the mile, as the transportation agency relies heavily on federal funding.
But Issa’s bill would also prevent the federal government from pursuing the idea, as it says no federal funds could be used to “study, propose, establish, implement, or enforce any state, local, or federal mileage tax.”
More than a decade ago, the Obama administration’s Department of Transportation floated the idea of taxing cars by the mile to generate more infrastructure revenue. That plan imagined the installation of trackers on each car that would register how far they traveled at gas stations, which would have equipment that would register and send that data to the government for tax collection purposes.
That idea went nowhere, but the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed in 2021 included language that called on the Department of Transportation to start a pilot program aimed at exploring the idea of a VMT tax.
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The infrastructure bill called on the department to create a Federal System Funding Alternative Advisory Board to explore the idea of a “per-mile user fee” as a way to generate highway funding based on how far people drive. The bill called for volunteers to be used in all 50 states to start testing this new system, and it imagined the use of onboard equipment, data from auto insurance companies, cellphone data and other means of tracking how far people drive.
While the law says the Federal System Funding Alternative Advisory Board should be up and running by February 2022, spokespeople for the department said that as of late last year it was not in place yet.
Issa said it makes sense to try to pass his bill now and not count on further delays at the Department of Transportation. He cited the line that former President Ronald Reagan made famous about the government’s view on how to raise money from the private sector: “If it moves, tax it.”
“This is one that definitely is moving,” Issa said about the idea of taxing cars, “and they’ll tax it for every mile it moves.”