WASHINGTON -- Drivers could pay a tax based on how many miles their vehicles travel under a plan being pushed by Missouri Rep. Sam Graves, who's vying to become the powerful new chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
While exact plans for such a tax remain vague, the fees could be calculated based on odometer checks, GPS devices, cellular technology or radio-frequency identification devices that would track how far a vehicle travels and charge drivers accordingly.
Graves, R-Mo., is promoting the per-mile tax as an alternative to raising the gasoline tax, a long-discussed way of providing more money for highway construction and repair.
Some states have been experimenting with a tax on miles traveled. A four-month pilot program last year in Colorado included 150 participants from 27 counties. The program let drivers choose how they reported their mileage and compare what they paid to the gas tax.
"Participants reported high satisfaction with all aspects of the pilot program and 91 percent said they would participate in a future pilot," according Michael Lewis, executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Lewis cautioned lawmakers, however, that the miles traveled tax is "probably 10 years off before it can be fully implemented."
Currently, drivers across the country pay an 18.4 cent-per-gallon federal gas tax that is not indexed for inflation and has not been increased for 25 years.
Over the years, anti-tax attitudes among conservatives have hardened, and Republicans who vote for higher taxes often find themselves with primary opposition.
But most in Congress agree money is badly needed to fix the nation's ailing, aging infrastructure. Without additional revenue sources, the federal government's Highway Trust Fund will see a shortfall of $80 billion by 2026, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Graves is so pessimistic about Congress raising the gas tax to fund the nation's highways that he likened colleagues' efforts to do so to "beating our heads against the wall."