Drivers in opposition to tax plan


RENO -- Nevadans expressed concern Tuesday that government would be tracking their driving routes should the state Department of Transportation switch to a Vehicles Miles Traveled system of highway taxation.

"There are serious privacy concerns with the VMT system," said Rebecca Gasca, public advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. "In some of the proposals, the government would know where you were driving 24 hours a day."

"Essentially, you are going to be watched and taxed for every road you drive on," added Paul Enos, director of the Nevada Motor Transport Association.

They were two of more than 50 people who attended a public forum on NDOT's newly launched three-year study on whether a VMT system could be developed to raise tax revenues to fund the upkeep and creation of Nevada roads. The study is expected to cost $260,000. A similar forum will be from 4 to 7 p.m. April 29 at the Clark County Government Center.

Under a VMT system, drivers no longer would pay gasoline taxes. Instead, they would be taxed for every mile driven.

To collect the tax, NDOT might require the installation of global positioning devices to track vehicle travel. The agency also could choose to record miles traveled by checking vehicle odometers every year and charging the driver a VMT tax.

NDOT Deputy Director Scott Rawlins said he understands the privacy concerns raised by global positioning technology.

"It is a concern for us, too," Rawlins said. "It is something we need to evaluate. I don't have an answer today."

But Rawlins noted that gasoline taxes no longer produce the revenue his agency needs to keep up with the demand for new and improved roads. Modern vehicles get nearly twice the mileage of those manufactured 30 years ago.

He said gasoline tax revenues will fall $4.5 billion to $6 billion short over the next six years of what the state requires to fund road and highway projects now on NDOT's drawing board.

"The gas tax is declining in its ability to deliver the transportation system we need," Rawlins said. "The VMT is like turning on your water or heater at home. You pay for what you use."

A higher VMT tax also could be charged during rush hours in heavily congested places such as Las Vegas. Rawlins called the VMT a fairer form of taxation.

The study is just beginning, and no decisions have been made on how to track miles driven or how much drivers would be taxed, he added.

Still ahead is a pilot study on VMT devices of various types that will be installed on the vehicles of 500 to 1,000 motorists across the state. They will report their views to NDOT.

Eric Herzik, a University of Nevada, Reno political science professor hired by NDOT to work on the study, concedes it will be tough convincing some people that government won't track drivers for inappropriate reasons.

"You aren't going to get 100 percent acceptance, no matter what you do," he said. "There is a lack of trust. We are trying to build the privacy concerns into the study."

No new highway taxing system can be implemented without the approval of the Legislature. Nevada legislators last approved a gasoline tax increase in 1992. Since then, they have rejected tax proposals from NDOT and even opposed its plans for toll roads.

Last year, President Barack Obama said no to VMT taxes after a federal study recommended that states and the nation eventually switch to the new type of tax. No state has yet approved a VMT taxing plan.

Contact reporter Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.