Road tax idea would have Uncle Sam riding shotgun
If a study under way at the University of Iowa pans out, Uncle Sam instead would be able to go along for the ride in every vehicle in the country through use of Global Positioning Satellite technology and digital data.
The goal of the study, which will involve 2,700 volunteers who agree to a two-year test drive for the equipment, is to find a replacement for the gasoline tax that currently finances much of the country's road system.
The theory being tested is that ever agency from the federal government down to cities could instead assess a mileage tax. An agency would take the GPS data and break down a vehicle's miles driven in each city, county and state, which would determine which government got how big a cut of the mileage tax.
Officials fear that as consumers switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles, gas tax revenues will decline. It's not an unreasonable fear, particularly since gas taxes can't keep up with road building and repair needs even with today's higher-mileage vehicles.
It is an unreasonable plan, even though one government panel already backs it and hopes to see it implemented by 2020, according to The Kansas City Star.
The University of Iowa says on its Web site that it's addressing privacy concerns. It plans to offer the volunteers two different bills: One with minimal detail that would list only miles driven and tax owed and one with specifics that would let drivers see exactly what they're being billed for.
Anyone who believes either system is anything close to privacy probably isn't smart enough to pass a driver's test to begin with.
Regardless of the form of the bill, the fact is the data still are being collected. The government - probably several governments - will have exact details about every where every American automobile is driven.
Law enforcement probably is licking its chops already. Had there been a GPS module installed in Scott Peterson's truck, his bogus Christmas Eve golfing alibi in the death of his wife would have been ruled out pretty quickly.
But how many other innocent people will be ruled into any investigation simply because they happened to drive past the wrong place at the wrong time?
If the government destroys the data, that leaves a system with no accountability. How will anyone be able to tell if political friends, allies and donors are getting breaks?
The chairman of the national commission that recommended the by-the-mile tax says implementing it is the best way to improve roads funding, a no-brainer.
It's a no-brainer all right. You really don't have to think much at all to see serious, insurmountable privacy concerns. You don't even have to believe in black helicopters to be scared to the possibilities.
Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.