Fueled by conspiracy, Republicans look to ban taxes on miles driven to supplement falling gas tax

Members of the far-right Arizona Freedom Caucus want to ban any future possibility of a tax on miles driven, a measure that some states have explored to replace falling revenue from gasoline taxes as hybrid and fully electric vehicles become more common.

Sen. Jake Hoffman’s Senate Bill 1010 would ban state, city, town and county governments from creating any tax based on miles traveled in a vehicle. It also includes provisions aimed at barring policies that reduce how much people drive, a core concept in a conspiracy theory that rose to prominence during the pandemic.

“This bill is about freedom,” Hoffman, a Queen Creek Republican and the leader of the Arizona Freedom Caucus, told the Senate Transportation, Technology and Missing Children Committee Monday afternoon. 

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The states piloting the kinds of policies that Hoffman is looking to ban are doing so with the intention of replacing falling revenue from gasoline taxes, which pay for road infrastructure and have been declining with more fuel-efficient vehicles and electric cars on the road. 

Arizona’s gas tax has remained at 18 cents per gallon since it was implemented in 1990.

While 37 states, along with the District of Columbia, have looked into vehicle mileage fees or started pilot programs, none of the programs so far are mandatory and no states have nixed their fuel taxes. The federal government is also set to conduct its own pilot program, using $125 million from an infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed in 2021

So far, only Oregon, Utah and Virginia have implemented such measures, with Hawaii set to begin its program in 2025. 

Hoffman’s bill has garnered a lot of interest from both those opposed and in favor of the measure, with 361 people and organizations officially registered in favor of the bill and 325 against it. 

Kenneth Steel, a representative of Pinnacle Prevention, a nonprofit that aims to create a more just food system and encourages joyful movement, asked senators to vote against the bill because he believes it would restrict cities’ options to encourage more healthy movement for its residents. 

Steel said his issue wasn’t with the tax ban specifically, but with a portion of the proposal that prohibits cities and towns from including goals for reducing vehicle miles traveled in their development of transportation, transit or land use plans. 

Even so, Sen. Athony Kern, R-Glendale, spoke to Steel as though he was personally advocating for a tax on miles driven. 

“You’re taking away people’s freedom, because you want to force them onto a bus,” Kern told Steel. 

Steel countered that he had no issues with people traveling in personal vehicles, but that it’s beneficial to have more options that help reduce greenhouse gasses, like travel by bus — and that there are other ways to encourage environmentally-friendly travel than through taxes. 

The portion of the bill that Kern and Steel sparred over is intended to stop the implementation of “15-minute cities.” The urban planning concept is meant to ensure no one in a city has to travel more than 15 minutes for essential services, but since COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were implemented in 2020, it has turned into a boogeyman for the far right, with conspiracy theories that the idea is actually part of a global plot to allow governments to control their populations

The furor around 15-minute cities is the latest version of fearmongering around national and global sustainability initiatives, and it echoes outrage on the right from a decade or so ago, when a  similar outcry was raised over Agenda 21, a 1992 non-binding United Nations resolution to promote sustainable development worldwide

The bill also would ban any of those government entities from tracking the number of miles a driver has traveled through odometer readings, traffic cameras or using phone tracking data. 

Hoffman introduced the same bill last year, and while it passed the Senate with a vote along party lines, it did not make it past the House. 

Greg Blackie, deputy director of policy for the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, asked senators to vote in favor of the bill because he said that taxes on miles driven are being used as a tool to limit free movement of people and to “reduce freedom.” 

He warned of a report from the Arizona Department of Transportation last year on carbon reduction strategies that included a goal of reducing vehicle miles traveled and reducing the number of single-occupant vehicles on the road. 

On a vote of 4-3, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed, the committee sent the bill to the full Senate for consideration. The committee also voted along party lines to approve Hoffman’s Senate Concurrent Resolution 1002, which would ask voters in November to ban cities from collecting taxes based on vehicle miles traveled, unless the person consents to monitoring and taxation. 

Marilyn Rodriguez, a lobbyist for Rural Arizona Action, said the group opposed the resolution, and expressed concerns about the consequences, especially because of the expected increase in the shortfall for road funding through the gas tax, and a lack of other solutions to replace that revenue. 

Jacob Emmett, lobbyist for the County Supervisors Association of Arizona, also expressed concerns about the resolution, saying that it “prohibits revenue options without suggesting other solutions.” 

He added that a miles-traveled tax would ensure that electric vehicles are paying their fair share for road infrastructure like other vehicles do through the gas tax.

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