Rich Galen

An article in the Wall Street Journal last week points out what happens when public officials depend upon the continued bad behavior of Americans to fund their projects.

Under the headline: "Fuel-Efficient Cars Dent States' Road Budgets," reporter Robert Guy Matthews writes that drivers, answering the call to conserve energy, are driving cars which use less gas. Less gas used means less gas purchased. Less gas purchased means fewer tax dollars collected. Way fewer. According to Matthews:

The Federal Highway Administration estimates that by 2009 the tax receipts that make up most of the federal highway trust fund will be $21 billion shy of what's needed just to maintain existing roads, much less build new roads or add capacity.

Trying to compensate for highway-budget shortfalls, a handful of states are exploring other, potentially more lucrative ways to raise highway money.

Other ways to raise highway money? That sounds modestly ominous.

Oregon, for instance, is looking at a system which combines a GPS receiver, an odometer, and a recording device. Object? To charge drivers a set price (maybe 1.2 cents) for each mile driven.

No benefits, apparently, for driving one of those hideous Prius hybrids - which alone makes me sort of in favor of this.

Vehicles in the Oregon test have the 24-cent-a-gallon state tax automatically deducted from their pump price and the 1.2 cents per mile fee since their last fill-up added.

If the average fuel-efficiency of passenger cars (according to the US Department of Transportation) in that year was 22.4 MPG then the average driver in Oregon bought 536 gallons of gas. Paying the 24 cents per gallon tax, that would have netted the state government $128.64 per vehicle.

According to the article, the average car traveled about 12,000 miles in 2005. At 1.2 cents per mile that would be $144 per year or $15.36 more than the per-gallon tax.

In 2005 there were 3,153,327 passenger cars registered according to the Oregon DMV. The additional 15 bucks per would have meant an additional $4.8 million in revenues to the state.

However, it is not terribly likely that the State of Oregon will front the costs of all this new gizmology. According the Oregon DMV, the necessary devices might cost as much as $255. So, for the state to raise an additional $4.8 million, it would cost Oregonian drivers almost $800 million.

Ok, NOW this is beginning to sound like a government program.

Minnesota, according to the WSJ, is working on a similar system but wants to "refine the technology to make it user-friendly."


Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at Mullings.com.