The administration's effort to distance itself from a draft plan to tax each mile driven by Americans has sparked new concerns among Western states and Republicans that White House is looking for a back door to sneak the new levy in through.
At a Senate GOP lunch this week, Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso was so mad that he distributed a map of states that would be hardest hit by the tax. "Test Driving A Middle Class Tax Hike?" read his map. "If they aren't serious about taxing drivers by the mile, then why does the administration keep proposing it?" [See the 10 best cities for public transportation.]
At issue is a previously dismissed draft transportation bill that indicates that the administration wants to spend $300 million studying the idea of alternative taxes which likely wouldn't be implemented until 2017, if ever. The draft, revealed by Transportation Weekly and The Hill, states: "This is an copy of a draft bill that was circulated some time ago within the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Office of Management and Budget. It is not the final version of the bill that the Obama Administration will eventually transmit to Congress (if indeed they ever do submit a bill to Congress)."
Today, Department of Transportation Spokeswoman Jill Zuckman reiterated that the tax is dead. "This is not an administration proposal. This is not a bill supported by the administration. We have not floated this proposal and have no plans to float this proposal. This was an early working draft proposal that was never formally circulated within the administration, does not taken into account the advice of the president's senior advisers, economic team or Cabinet officials, and does not represent the views of the president," she told Whispers. [See the 10 states that use the most energy per capita.]
But tax critics weren't listening. Barrasso told Whispers: "It sure seems to me like the president continues to look for back door ways to tax the middle class. The last thing Washington should do is make it more expensive for people to drive each day. If the White House isn't seriously considering a mileage tax, why does the administration keep suggesting it year after year?"
In his handout, Barrasso, vice chair of the Senate Republican Conference, said, "Taxing drivers by mileage would be an additional tax on top of the current fuel tax. When people are already paying too much at the pump, we shouldn't go down this road. Instead of even thinking about raising taxes on the middle class, Democrats should join Republicans in supporting 'all of the above' American energy production."
Taxes and gas prices are a hot issue in Washington, with both sides trying to figure out a way to cut gas prices and both dueling over taxes as a way to cut the deficit.
If a tax on mileage ever went into effect, Western and Midwestern states drivers would get socked the most, while those in urban areas like New York and Washington, D.C. would get off easy.
To figure out which states drive the most, Whispers went to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics which has a 2008 report on highway vehicle-miles traveled. The top 10:
1. Wyoming, 17,735 miles per vehicle.
2. Mississippi, 14,875.
3. Oklahoma, 13,315.
4. New Mexico, 13,243.
5. Alabama, 12,721.
6. North Dakota, 12,191.
7. Vermont, 11,769.
8. Arkansas, 11,614.
9. Missouri, 11,549.
10. West Virginia, 11,449.
U.S. Average: 9,779.