‘Blueprint’ for Taxes

WASHINGTON —  The Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank founded by current and former officeholders from both major parties, unveiled a blueprint for transportation legislation calling for a federal freight tax and a vehicle-miles-traveled tax.

The freight tax, which the group did not specify, would be for both truck and railroad shipments and would be part of a sweeping national freight policy tackling such issues as connectivity and congestion in order to promote economic growth.

“Congestion in the national freight system is undermining the reliability and connectivity of goods movements, which are essential to the nation’s economic well-being,” the blueprint said.

At the same time, the blueprint said, the federal government should initiate the research and planning necessary to transition to a VMT tax that takes into account the fuel consumption of particular vehicle models, as well as the needs of rural Americans.

A former chairman of the House highways subcommittee who was on hand for the June 9 unveiling of the blueprint said the trucking industry is in the best position to help launch a VMT tax pilot program, because trucking is the most sophisticated highway user and already employs the onboard technology necessary for such a tax system.

“If people see the big boys doing it and become familiar with it, [VMT is] less threatening and it has more legitimacy,” said Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.).

“You could give them a discount if they were willing to switch to this technology and maybe drive their trucks in off-peak hours,” Petri said.

Petri raised the VMT possibility at the press conference and panel discussion the BPC held for the blueprint’s unveiling.

As Petri and other speakers at the bipartisan group’s event said, fuel tax revenues have been declining for years as Americans turn to smaller cars or public transit.

New sources of revenue must be tapped to fund highways and other transportation-related needs, speakers said.

Trucking leaders already have said they would support an increase in the federal fuel tax because they understand the Highway Trust Fund needs money, Petri said.

A more forward-looking idea, he suggested, would be for trucking and federal policymakers to join forces on a VMT tax.

“I think it’s going to happen,” Petri said of the tax. “The question is how innovative we are in working with people in the private sector to partner and roll the technology out into the economy.”

Petri later told Light & Medium Truck it would be impossible to implement a VMT tax all at once or nationwide at the start.

“So, you’d think you’d want to start with the most sophisticated users who can help you design a system that really makes sense and serves them, as well as the public,” he said.

The blueprint is the second to surface recently calling on Congress to dramatically redesign everything about the transportation system, from priorities to funding.

In May, Transportation for America, a coalition of 300 groups including AARP, the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership and the League of Conservation Voters, issued its blueprint.

T4America, as the group is known, also said a national freight policy should be part of the transportation reauthorization plan currently being developed by Congress.

Like the BPC, T4America backed a VMT tax, plus greater spending and emphasis on public transit investment.

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