Mileage-based gas tax backers tout $305B highway bill

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Backers of a plan to tax drivers based on how many miles they travel instead of how many gallons of they buy are touting the recently approved $305 billion highway bill that was passed by lawmakers. 

The Washington, D.C.-based Mileage-Based User Fee Alliance said the measure, which reauthorized the collection of the current 18.4 cents per gallon gas tax for five years, includes $95 billion to test alternatives to using gas tax revenue to fund transportation projects in the future. 

The group's chairman, Jack Basso, said the funding is the first time Congress has taken a step toward moving away from using gas tax revenue as the primary funding source for transportation projects. 

"This bill does what no prior bill has done: authorizes $95 million dollars for states to conduct research and testing of alternatives to the gas tax," Basso said in a statement. 

"This is welcome assistance to states, the majority of which are actively looking for viable alternatives to the gas tax," he continued. "This level of funding helps to assure the United States will be a key player throughout the world in developing user fee solutions to fund surface transportation infrastructure." 

Transportation advocates in Washington have suggested moving to a mileage-based fee system, as receipts from the gas tax have dwindled in recent years — but to no avail. 

The plan, known in transportation circles as Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), has faced opposition over privacy concerns in Washington, when it has been floated as an alternative to the gas tax that is currently used to pay for infrastructure projects. 

The gas tax has been the normal source for transportation projects since it's inception in the 1930s. The tax has not been increased since 1993, however, and the pace of infrastructure expenses is outpacing it, as cars become more fuel efficient. 

The federal government typically spends approximately $50 billion per year in road and transit spending, but the gas tax is only bringing in about $34 billion per year. 

Transportation advocates have suggested a switch to a mileage-based program, but critics have raised concerns about government officials tracking the movements of drivers. 

Officials in Oregon have moved to test the mileage-fee system in their state, but lawmakers turned to a package of $70 billion of offsets in the recent highway bill to supplement gas tax revenue for the next five years.