Mileage Tax Would Put Big Brother in Your Back Seat

California is known as the world capital of the car culture. The automobile played a central role in creating the California Dream, giving people the freedom to travel, to live where they choose and to experience the exhilaration of the open road.

Now, if Senator Mark DeSaulnier gets his way, you’ll have to pay a new tax for every mile you drive. His Senate Bill 1077 would begin with a “pilot program” in one unfortunate yet-to-be-determined city where motorists would pay taxes based on the miles driven. Eventually, the Democrat from Concord hopes to impose his mileage tax on all of us.

Just as many Americans are expressing concerns about government surveillance programs that intrude on their privacy (think red light cameras and the NSA), the mileage tax would give state transportation bureaucrats access to data on where you go.

Sen. DeSaulnier contends that the state needs the data to calculate your taxes but will keep the information safe. However, in the last year California state agencies, including the departments of Public Health and Social Services, were responsible for data breaches that compromised the personal information of thousands of Californians.

Also, while SB 1077 is obviously a tax increase, DeSaulnier and his tax-raising buddies are trying to say it is a “fee” and not a tax. They know if they get away with calling it a “fee” they can pass it with a simple majority vote and increase it anytime they wish, all without needing to comply with Proposition 13’s requirement that higher state taxes receive a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.

This mileage tax will fall especially hard on those who live in suburbs or exurbs and have to commute long distances to work and it will discourage people from taking vacations. Instead of feeling free to explore, Californians will have to take a government meter with them, dinging them with more taxes every mile they travel.

State policies have become increasingly hostile to drivers over the years and the mileage tax would just make things worse. California has the highest gas taxes in the nation and gas prices are second only to Hawaii which, given its location in the middle of the ocean, makes fuel transportation expenses unavoidably high. California, sitting on huge oil reserves, can’t claim that excuse.

And even with ridiculously high taxes on gas that are supposed to be dedicated to roads, a Reason Foundation study ranks our state 47th out of 50 (with 50 being worst) for worst roads in the nation. This is because Sacramento politicians have continually raided gas tax funds to spend on unrelated pet projects.

Free and fast movement of goods and people facilitates economic growth. High taxes and congested roads only harm our economy and frustrate hard working citizens who simply want to get where they need to go. Sacramento must stop its bait and switch tactics with the gas tax and make better use of the considerable funds already provided. DeSaulnier’s proposal is just another tax increase and it takes us in the wrong direction.

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Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

2 replies
  1. Pete - a native Californian says:

    This “mileage tax” idea is related to Agenda 21 … which is supposed to force us all into living in dense “rabbit hutches” served by “mass transit.” While an increase in the automobile-related taxes might be justified in improving/maintaining/expanding the California highway system, the goal is to force people into ever higher density living and to make it too inconvenient to own or drive a privately owned automobile. Meanwhile, as you note, the politicians have regularly stolen auto-related tax dollars (that were supposed to be earmarked for road improvement or maintenance) to squander on mass transit or on vaguely related “transit” projects, like bike lanes and other wasteful projects.

    In recent years, I’d noticed that the few improvements to local roads in the Bay Area featured extensive “traffic calming” features — and low speed limits that continued to provide the congestion than helps support the argument that we need denser population and union operated government owned transit systems. (Do you see the corruption at work here?)

    Of course, this all explains why I’m no longer a California resident, having moved to a state without income taxes.

  2. antiplanner says:

    Every single experiment and model ever designed for mileage-based fees has guaranteed the privacy of travelers. See

    Mileage-based user fees are the fiscally conservative way of paying for roads, for they insure that there are as few cross-subsidies as possible. They will also allow the creation of private roads. Why would you be against them?

    Nor are mileage-based user fees related to Agenda 21 (which itself isn’t related to density — Agenda 21 says nothing about increasing urban densities as a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions). In fact, supporters of increased densities and reductions in driving mostly fear mileage-based user fees because they know that auto drivers are willing to pay the full costs of the roads they use while transit riders and Amtrak passengers are not.

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