February 21st, 2009
07:57 AM ET

Dear President Obama #33: The Mileage Tax Trap

Reporter's Note: The President has asked for ideas on how to run America. The best one I’ve come up with so far is this: writing a letter a day to the White House.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/02/20/driving.tax/art.gps.gi.jpg caption="The mileage tax idea involves tracking drivers through GPS units in their cars, but the Obama Administration stated it will not support the policy."]

Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

Give yourself a pat on the back! Heck, have Biden do it for you; he’s not busy.

Hands down, you have made the single smartest move of your month-old presidency by saying you will not pursue a mileage tax on drivers. And probably the worst move? Letting it come up in the first place. Did no one have a talk with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood about teamwork? Cabinet members who run off freelancing ideas can be bad for a president’s political health.

I’m sure you’ve got plenty of folks bending your ear with arguments as to why a mileage tax would be good. If you charge people for every mile they drive, they’ll tell you, you’ll encourage fuel conservation. You’ll cut down on pollution. You’ll reduce traffic congestion, too. But the primary reason this idea is even up for consideration in some states, is that people are doing a better job conserving, so gas tax revenues are not as high as they once were. In other words, taxpayers have done what they were asked to do, but now they’re being told they can’t hold on to one of the benefits.

And whether these governments need that money or not, I can assure you this is one of the fastest ways to start a crushing political fight and further weaken the sense that, as you put it, “we’re all in this together.” Through many years of reporting, I have found this to be precisely the kind of thing that makes voters think government is really all about itself, not them, and pretty soon you’ll see them break out the pitchforks and torches.

A plan like this is fraught with unbelievable difficulties. Putting mileage trackers on cars would instantly raise privacy protests. Rural counties would automatically proclaim that mileage taxes are unfairly punitive to their voters. Western states would make the same argument. (Did you know that if you picked up Montana and dropped it to the east, one end would be on Washington DC, and the other on Chicago? You could walk home and never cross a state line!) And speaking of going back to Chicago, would we have to pay for Roland Burris’ return trip?

Anyway, while I’m sure the idea will come up again; let me say congratulations once more for recognizing a mine field when you see one. Voters, I suspect, have been through so much pain at the pump, they won’t be able to take it if they are hit harder just driving to the gas station.

If you get a minute call this weekend; or better yet, swing by if you want on Saturday night. We’ve got some friends coming over for a little Mardi Gras celebration. I’ll introduce you around.



For more of the Foreman Letters, click here.

soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    Is there anything in life that the federal government want tax?

    February 23, 2009 at 9:03 am |
  2. Dude

    I'm disappointed. I was hoping he would push the mileage tax. This would have started a rebellion. It has big brother issues, snooping, and a new unfair tax on top of it. It would galvanize opposition and I suspect we would have had a revolt with the majority smashing the machines installed in their cars. It would have been the beginning of the end of big government. Oh well. Maybe it will come back. As a foe of big government and a wannabe insurrectionist I can only hope.

    February 23, 2009 at 8:32 am |
  3. Julie San Diego, CA

    Why not tax consumption? I'd prefer it to a rise in income taxes.

    By the way, we already have mileage taxes – they're called toll roads and I cough up the $9 worth of tolls to cut an hour off my weekly trips to LA.

    Tom, you are usually pretty fairminded with your analysis, but did you ever consider the fact that a mileage tax may encourage Americans to use (and build more) public transportation? If they taxed my 200 mile roundtrip, I'd get out the train and bus schedules. With gas prices so low, I cough up the toll and just pump another tank of gas. This leaves the polar bears floating out to sea on ice floes and Americans still over the barrel with the Arabs.

    Obama's looking forward, and he's doing a great job. Much better than that now-jobless former President that walked into the Texas hardware store and jokingly asked for a job as a greeter. Bush wasn't qualified for his former job and he's probably not qualified for the greeter job either. Why wasn't the media as critical of him?

    February 22, 2009 at 10:04 pm |
  4. James Wong

    This letter is directed to Timothy Geithner,treasury dept.I understand that banks that have accessed the tarp program are paying 10% inrerest,How can any bank survive if this is so.If major banks fail we will have worldwide depression as the financial sector is the foundation of every sector of the economy.The banks should be paying prime rate.Can someone tell me why not.Currently I have variable rate loan at 3% and I am just an individual.

    February 22, 2009 at 8:22 pm |
  5. Edward Perbi

    Has a knighthood ever being withdrawn?

    February 22, 2009 at 6:53 pm |
  6. mb

    Plain and simple, they're losing revenue from less driving and are looking for a new source. If they ever implement a gas tax, I sure hope they also allow people to write off mileage related to work on their taxes. For me it's an 80 mile round trip every day. Of course, they wouldn't see it as less wear and tear on the roads meaning less repair costs. It's amazing what they want to tax these days. I'm surprise they haven't put meters on our toilets to tax us per flush. It would make it easier to track where this country is going and how fast I guess.

    February 22, 2009 at 5:27 am |
  7. J.V.Hodgson

    Dear Tom
    1)Biden is busy as deputy Ceo to the worlds largest economy and diplomatic, security needs.
    2) La hood, its called free speech, but of course thats only relevant, for the media, and Obama must not of course allow it.
    3) It ain't happened and you imagine all sorts of crises.
    Tell you what though a simple small increase in the Gas tax, to federal government not states for sure fixes your nonsense comments and pure unadulterated political bias inherent therein.
    Print that if you dare.
    Find something meaningful and realistic to suggest in this crisis you and all of us are facing in your letters.
    Based on this one, no intention of clicking here to read more Foreman letters.

    February 22, 2009 at 3:20 am |
  8. Zyworski

    Every positive benefit that could be had from a mileage tax could also come from a gas tax increase. A gas tax would have the added benefit of requiring less bureaucracy to administer and would also promote the use of higher MPG vehicles. Now if we can just get the Transportation Secretary on the same page.

    February 21, 2009 at 10:56 pm |
  9. mike d utica ny

    To even think about taxing milage is one of the most stupid things i have ever heard. It is bad enough that we have problems in the financial sector. To start coming up with ideas about new ways to tax will without a doubt cause Obama to lose the next election. I live in New York, and just the other day I signed a petition against the Governor of New York because he wants to put a 4% tax on bowling. This man who is suppose to help us is not. His approval rating is down into the 40% area. He should just step down because we do not want him more than we did not want Hillary. Tax bowling, what's next, tax how many times your tires rotate in a year. Idiot.

    February 21, 2009 at 10:11 pm |
  10. KJ

    What a wonderful article! I could not have said it better myself. This is such a stupid idea, as it most defiantly would punish rural areas and individuals whom have to drive longer distances to get to work.

    February 21, 2009 at 9:31 pm |
  11. Scott Neal

    Well, Tom...don't get discouraged, there is still the fairness doctrine....or whatever they will call it. And Biden is busy...he is building a new toy train. And he is going to harness renewable energy from sea erchins, I guess you just have to collect one gallon of urine to drive a train from Disneyland to Vegas. I think you should impose a tax for everytime someone takes a crap. I think we should monitor how many times taxpayers slice the cheese. I think we should elect Arnold Schwartenegger for President....look what he has done for for California. Oh, here's the best part....likely the only state in the union that does not need a bailout.....Alaska. We must get rid of Palin.

    February 21, 2009 at 8:56 pm |
  12. Ed Churchill

    Are you a Patriot?

    In 2008 the citizens of the United States spent 700 billion dollars for imported crude to produce gasoline and diesel fuel to power our 200 million daily vehicles. This was nearly 30% more than in 2007, and the results are evident for all to see, our economy is in ruins. Catching all the bad guys in banking and finance is great after they already ripped off so many billions but the catalyst for the downfall of world economies was that nasty 145 dollars a barrel crude which seems to have slipped everyone’s mind.
    The 879 billion dollar stimulus package which keeps growing has no substance to sustain it and there fore is doomed to fail its intentions. It will prop up the economy for no more than two or three years at best and even then produce very little help where it is most needed; job creation. There is a plan that is fail safe and fair to all Americans and we must demand this option be made available to America or risk loosing the very thing that makes us great; our independence. That’s right when we didn’t have to import oil we were honored and revered around the world, and now?
    So; let’s start with some facts: The United states sits on the sixth largest known reserves of Natural gas in the world. The technology to power autos with natural gas is perfected and has been around more than forty years. Natural gas burns 70% cleaner than gasoline or diesel. Natural Gas cannot spill, or pollute water or soil. Gasoline and diesel produce more than 25 toxic poisons with there exhaust, natural gas? None!
    So why the hell are we not using our own Natural gas to power our cars and light trucks and secure our transportation fuel needs with our own resources?
    Seven hundred billion dollars focused on extraction, delivery, and consumption of NG for auto fuel would generate something in the area of two trillion dollars worth of commerce for our country, creating millions of long term good paying jobs along the way.
    The U.S. must demand that auto bail out money be used by the big three to convert current models of cars and light trucks to NG. Getting at least 5 million per year available to the public. This is an easy plan to understand, as it has a substance to back up all expenditures, and a logical process to follow. Produce billions of parts, sell to auto industry, assemble parts in new NG vehicles, sell to Americans who have jobs and don’t have to worry about fuel availability or outrageous price swings. Stable fuel prices will produce a strong stable economy. It’s simple and fool proof, so why has this not even been considered? Please save America, be a patriot and fight for what is right!

    February 21, 2009 at 8:48 pm |
  13. john kimball

    CNN is creating a panic because they like hearing themselves and being in control of everything. Nothing but negative news yelling from the media. Your not interested in buidling support just tearing it down.

    February 21, 2009 at 8:27 pm |
  14. Larry L.

    What can be done to stop this insanity before we are in so deep we can not get out ?As fast as our country is being CHANGED we can not afford to wait until 2010--something radical is going to be required to combat the radical CHANGES being forced on our citizens-impeachment ?

    February 21, 2009 at 8:26 pm |
  15. How to Run America - Americans First

    Its no wonder why so many Americans are out of work. Unfair trade agreements, out sourcing of jobs and H1-B work Visas. How can Americans work when the field is so unfair. When did For Americans or Buy Americans become a dirty world

    Politicans should remember foreigns dont vote if they cant remember that let them go to France to see if they can get a job!

    February 21, 2009 at 8:05 pm |
  16. Nonpartisan

    Pardon the pun, but you definitely better not go down this road, Mr. President. The resistance might be partially due to money but more likely it will be due to the further attempt by government to interfere and control our country and its citizens like a dictatorship. We don't want socialism of any kind here.

    February 21, 2009 at 7:00 pm |

    Our socialist president discovered the great majority of the American people were against the mileage tax. Other than exposing Obama as a corrupt president, I believe Tom Foreman made his point. Not to worry Obama will find another way to tax the American people including the working and middle class who he promised to reduce their taxes. Right!!!

    February 21, 2009 at 5:54 pm |
  18. Chris

    As "sherry" said, Kudos! This proposal was a B-A-D idea.

    February 21, 2009 at 5:28 pm |
  19. Wil Beachy

    I agree, a mileage tax is a bad idea. I drive a fuel efficient car. Please do not penalize me for that.
    A carbon tax, or fuel tax, will encourage conservation and raise revenue at the same time.
    We need to keep fighting this at both state and federal levels.

    February 21, 2009 at 5:18 pm |
  20. wsb -Bethesda, MD

    Um, isn't the gas tax already a tax/mile driven? I don't get what your so up in arms about. Certainly their are non-intrussive ways to implement a mileage tax and you could have different rates for different types of vehicles.

    February 21, 2009 at 5:00 pm |
  21. KIm

    Let's skip that concept and move to the next one ! Not ! No ! Bad idea and we know Uncle Sam is watching but let's don't get carried away !

    February 21, 2009 at 4:30 pm |
  22. Alex (Aliso Viejo)

    Mileage tax??? Get a grip. We are already having difficulty in encouraging people to go to the malls or go out and simply have fun. Putting a limit to where they go removes the possibility of people spending some money in a cafe or shop. Besides, staying at home during a recession is not also good for everybody's state of mind. It is absolutely necessary to get some good sunshine and appreciate the free things in life when everything looks bleak. Amen to you, Mr. Tom! 🙂

    February 21, 2009 at 2:55 pm |
  23. Claudia

    Okay my spoiled children.....if you are poor you are thankful for food and a roof over your head, never mind the car! Oh yes, we have two cars, but there was a time I took the bus everywhere and was thankful the bus stop was only a block away! I may have to go back to that, but consider the time spent walking to the bus stop less time at the gym!

    The problem is people are whining about losing privileges....the same people who chanted "yes we can"! If you can't walk to the bus stop, maybe YOU CAN'T change the world.

    Republicans......get some new lobbyist friends, please! Stay away from the cocktail parties....loosen your ties, roll up your sleeves and get to work. I don't want to hear about your problems reading 1,000 page bill, you have a staff and anyone who had done their homework all along knew just where to focus the night before.....I'm nobody and I did. The Bush era is over!

    February 21, 2009 at 2:25 pm |
  24. Kay

    Mister President the citizens of Arizona appreciate your words of comfort on Wednesday 18, 2009 on our dire Mortgage needs but we also need the right to work law removed out of our State.

    We can also use a pay scale hike.

    Thanks !

    A concerned citizen of Phoenix, Arizona

    February 21, 2009 at 1:43 pm |
  25. Kay

    I purchased my Home as a fixer -upper the bank knew this and before the market crashed I had almost $75,000 equity in it . I couldn't get any of the money to make my home more liveable then and I have grave concerns as to what I'm going to do now. Medically it need some dire repairs as soon as possible. Please tell me where do I go for help now.

    Thanks for your help to the Nation CNN.

    A Concerned Disabled Senior Citizen in Phoenix, Arizona

    February 21, 2009 at 1:32 pm |
  26. Pat

    Obama is ill equiped to run this country and it is showing every painful day he makes a new decision... Hello 2012 move that truck. Right outta the White House and back to where Obama belongs Kenya..

    February 21, 2009 at 12:51 pm |
  27. Hannah

    I am commenting because I do not know too much on this subject-

    First-a lot of resistance as a reason not to consider this idea more seriously? Come on now-there will always be resistance with change. Further, we have to face the reality that something needs to be done about the problems the author mentioned in addition to the global warming crises and dependency on oil. However, I do not know why we don't tax gas more? Gas is going to go up anyway-might as well increase it now and start changing human behavior NOW. Also, if gas has a higher tax then if we do need to start taxing mileage there would be less resistance-a smoother transition.

    Thank you for your time and consideration.

    February 21, 2009 at 11:55 am |
  28. Ralph

    Foreman makes a good case. While the need to change our driving patterns is clear to reduce our dependence on foreign petroleum, the scheme of assessing mileage with a GPS tracker is a terrible way to go about it. The notion is technically overwrought and implementation would make everyone miserable (with the possible exception of certain GPS device manufacturers) even if one could get past the political hurdles. There are many ways to accomplish the same goal without putting an expensive electronic gizmo in every car in the country.

    February 21, 2009 at 11:55 am |
  29. Amelia

    I look forward to your letters every morning and I'm sure the President does, too :-). Keep them coming, please!

    February 21, 2009 at 10:12 am |
  30. Barbara Murray

    I was shocked when i first heard about a mileage tax. I think that is just pure greed.

    February 21, 2009 at 9:56 am |
  31. Dave

    We obviously have to find ways to start reducing our crippling national debt...None of which will be popular. It's a shame that our new transportation secretary tried to combine privacy (GPS tracking) with a proposed tax increase. It's not what I would identify as high level creative thinking, but at least he was "transparent".

    Picture me hurling my sneakers at his head 🙂


    February 21, 2009 at 9:22 am |
  32. lynn

    He rejected the mileage tax...so why are you giving him a lecture?? Obviously our president has been much busier than you if you have time to write more of your drivel!!

    February 21, 2009 at 9:06 am |
  33. sherry

    All I have to say, is Kudos!! To this reporter.

    February 21, 2009 at 8:55 am |