Fact check: Infrastructure bill wouldn’t impose ‘driving tax’ of 8 cents per mile – USA TODAY

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The claim: A ‘driving tax’ proposed by President Joe Biden would cost Americans 8 cents per mile

The timing of a vote on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package divided House Democrats this week, with some lawmakers arguing the bill should move in tandem with a larger package of social welfare programs.

But online, one popular narrative in opposition to the bipartisan public works bill, one of the largest in history, centers on a purported “driving tax.”

“Biden’s new driving tax is expected to cost you about 8 cents/mile,” reads text in a Sept. 29 Instagram post. “Average person drives 15k miles/year. Get ready to pay an extra $1,200 a year (or about 1 month’s rent).”

The source of the text is a Sept. 28 tweet from Kyle Hooten, a former speechwriter in the Trump administration and an editor at a website called Alpha News. The post accumulated more than 940 retweets in two days.

Similar claims have racked up thousands of interactions on Facebook and Instagram, according to CrowdTangle. Many of the posts cite a screenshot of a broadcast from Newsmax, a conservative news organization, about “Biden tax increases.”

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“You guys tired of your boy yet?” one Facebook user wrote Sept. 28. “Now were (sic) going to have to pay to drive to work. Then pay to drive home.”

That’s wrong – the infrastructure bill does not include a “driving tax.”

As other independent fact-checking organizations have noted, the legislation includes a voluntary pilot program to study the viability of a per-mile user fee to improve roads and maintain the Highway Trust Fund.

“There is no new vehicle tax in the infrastructure bill,” Joshua Sewell, a senior policy analyst at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a federal budget watchdog group, said in an email.

USA TODAY reached out to the Instagram user who shared the claim for comment.

Bill would create pilot program

If passed, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would create a voluntary “national motor vehicle per-mile user fee pilot.” The legislation does not include a new “driving tax,” as the social media posts claim.

Hooten told USA TODAY in an email that his tweet “doesn’t mention anything about the infrastructure bill.”

“Nor did I claim the tax is imminent or that any plans are set in stone – thus the word ‘expected,'” he said. “I simply echoed analysis aired by Newsmax about how this tax might evolve.”

But the Newsmax broadcast mentioned “Biden’s Build Back Better plan,” an apparent reference to the infrastructure package. (The Build Back Better Act is a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, which is separate from the infrastructure package and does not mention the user fee.)

“The infrastructure bill directs the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with the Treasury Secretary and an advisory board, to establish a voluntary per-mile user fee pilot project,” Sewell said.

If passed, pilot participants would record how many miles they drive and pay fees based on those miles. Enrollment would be voluntary, and participants would be reimbursed for any charges they pay.

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The goal, according to the bill, is to test whether such a user fee could help “restore and maintain the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund” and “improve and maintain the surface transportation system.”

The Highway Trust Fund finances most federal spending for highways and mass transit, according to the Tax Policy Center. The fund gets most of its revenue from taxes on gas and diesel.

However, since 2008, those taxes alone have not sustained the  fund. Congress has transferred billions of dollars in general revenues into the fund to meet its spending obligations.

“The gas tax is an eroding source of revenue because more and more cars are fuel-efficient or electric,” Marc Goldwein, senior vice president and senior policy director at the nonprofit Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, told USA TODAY. “I think almost everybody understands, even the opponents of doing it now, that at some point we’re going to have to transition from charging people based on gas used to miles traveled.”

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In addition to the potential federal pilot, which would run from fiscal year 2022 to 2026, several states are exploring road usage charges

Will McBride, vice president of federal tax and economic policy at the Tax Foundation, said in an email that a user fee is “not a bad idea as a way to fund expenditures on roads.” A 2020 analysis from the right-leaning think tank found that a federal tax averaging 1.7 cents per mile could cover the highway fund’s expenditures.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that a “driving tax” proposed by Biden would cost Americans 8 cents per mile. The $1.2 trillion infrastructure package in Congress would not levy a new mileage-based tax. The legislation includes a voluntary pilot program to study whether a per-mile user fee could help improve roads and maintain the Highway Trust Fund.

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