Cyclist Transportation Secretary Wants to Tax Americans Who Drive Cars

Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg riding his bicycle
March 26, 2021

If Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigeg has his way, Americans may soon have to pay a tax for every mile they drive.

Buttigieg, a notorious cyclist, said during an interview with CNBC's Squawk on the Street that the idea of taxing drivers based on mileage "shows a lot of promise."

Democrats have suffered as cars become more fuel-efficient and cut into gas tax revenue. Buttigieg addressed this conundrum in his interview, saying that while the "gas tax used to be the obvious" way to increase revenue, it's now time to consider the "so-called vehicle miles traveled tax, or mileage tax, whatever you want to call it."

While Buttigieg did not offer specifics about a mileage tax, similar policies have raised serious privacy concerns.

In Oregon, instituting a mileage tax required state-provided, GPS-free devices that plugged into cars, a move that elicited blowback from civil liberties groups that say warrantless tracking is a violation of privacy. In 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that the government's use of GPS data to track location without a warrant is unconstitutional.

Oregonians who don't want a state GPS in their car have to keep track of the miles they drive, record annual odometer readings, or pay flat monthly fees of $45.

President Biden has pledged not to raise taxes on Americans making under $400,000. This will be difficult to square with a mileage tax, as many Americans making under $400,000 drive cars.