Although conservative activists across the country gather today to throw "Tax Day Tea Parties," their anti-government zeitgeist is badly out of favor in Washington. President Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress have committed to increased discretionary spending on a variety of programs in the years to come and, coupled with their pledge not to repeat the Bush administration and congressional Republicans' budget-busting ways, they are going to be looking for new sources of revenue to keep the deficit down.
Highway and mass transit infrastructure spending got a lot of attention in the stimulus package -- President Obama just cut the ribbon on the 2,000th transportation project made possible by the stimulus funds -- and it will be getting a lot more with the Surface Transit Re-authorization bill due this year. While all Democrats and even some Republicans agree that highways and railroads need to be built and maintained for the economy to thrive, it seems that some Democrats, and even some administration officials, disagree about how we should pay for it.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently raised a kerfuffle when he suggested that the federal government should start paying for transportation infrastructure by taxing drivers for every vehicle mile traveled (VMT), rather than with the current 18.4 cent per gallon tax on gasoline. The White House quickly distanced itself from LaHood's remarks, saying that the president does not support such a move. And rightfully so. Taxing drivers for the amount they drive is both more difficult and less environmentally beneficial than taxing gasoline. To do it, you have to put mileage-calculating GPS devices in people's cars, which raises privacy concerns.