After a Republican retreat on the gas tax, a Bloomberg column floats a new way to fund mass transit

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House Republicans have abandoned their efforts to eliminate gas-tax funding for mass transit, which is good news for public transit systems nationwide, and particularly good news for the M.T.A., which had some $1 billion a year in federal funding in play.

But the gas-tax revenue is not a long-term solution anyway, as Bloomberg View wrote last week:

"[T]he Highway Trust Fund, which gets the bulk of its revenue from a federal excise tax on gasoline of 18.4¢ per gallon, is nearly bankrupt. Because the tax isn’t adjusted for inflation and has been pegged at the same rate since 1993, it has covered less and less of U.S. transportation spending. The Congressional Budget Office says the fund could be insolvent as soon as October."

Raising the gas tax more than inflation, meanwhile, is probably political unfeasible and also, the magazine argues, a diminishing source of revenue in the long run as cars get more and more fuel-efficient. (It doesn't mention that part of the reason to have a gas tax, or a "carbon tax" of any sort, is to encourage efficiency.)

Bloomberg View, the editorial page of Bloomberg News whose opinions are explicitly informed by the opinions and values of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, floats a possible solution that it presents as less politically problematic than anything that would have the effect of further raising gas taxes:

"One promising replacement for the gas tax is a 'vehicle-miles-traveled fee,' which would use satellite tracking or a variety of other methods to charge drivers by mileage, regardless of the fuel they use. The technology required for widespread use of such a system is years away, and protecting privacy while monitoring driving habits will be a challenge. But the concept—placing the funding burden directly on those who use the roads—is a smart one."

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