Estate tax answers from the IRS, questions for the president
Texas, Connecticut wrap up 2011 back-to-school tax holidays

Auto taxes: federal and state gas taxes, driving taxes by the mile

School, if it hasn't already started where you live, is about to begin again. That means folks are straggling home from their final summer vacations.

Most of the excursions are by car. This summer, at least the latter part of it, drivers got lucky as pump prices fell a bit.

But that hasn't stopped some from complaining. And one Republican presidential hopeful is using gasoline prices as a political cudgel. Michele Bachmann says that as president, she'd get pump prices down to $2 a gallon.

Such political pronouncements are nothing new. And Americans' love of the open highway make gas taxes a perennial target. Just as the summer vacation season was about to begin, gas tax holiday talk ramped up. Nothing happened.

As for Bachmann's promise to take our gas prices back to 2009 levels, she doesn't say exactly how she would make that happen, but among the ways to reduce gasoline prices is to cut gasoline taxes.

Bachmann's promise has me wondering whether she's going to vote against extending the 18.4 cent per gallon federal gas tax that will come up for debate next month. This excise tax, which expires on Sept. 30, has held steady since 1993 and some folks say it's actually time to increase the gas tax.

A combination of fuel taxes: The federal tax isn't the only fuel tax. States also collect gas taxes, as well as add all sorts of auto-related fees that add to what we pay when we fill up our vehicles.

And the recent discussion of fuel prices and taxes makes this Follow-up Friday a perfect time to look at the latest state fuel taxes.

Gasoline taxes American Petroleum Institute July 2011 Click image for a larger PDF view

The American Petroleum Institute tracks fuel taxes. That's the trade group's map above with the July data. Last month the average combined federal, state and local gas tax was 48.9 cents per gallon.

Collecting transportation dollars by the mile: Some people say a better way to collect money to pay for road construction and repair is via a user-fee. Essentially, the people who drive the most would pay the most.

Such a concept was floated a couple of years ago by the Transportation Secretary, but the legislative brakes were quickly applied applied to any per-mile tax.

Then in May, the idea of a mileage tax was once more taken for a very brief test drive.

Don't be surprised to see it mentioned again when the federal fuel excise tax is discussed next month. But also don't expect to see it happen on U.S. roads for a while.

Follow-up friday icon Such a transportation tax method, however, is slowly moving forward in Europe. Part two of this week's Follow-up Friday looks at a per-mile, I mean per kilometer, tax in the Netherlands.

As part of a test to see how and how well such a tax would work, Dutch drivers hooked up their cars to a meter that measured not only kilometers driven, but also factored in the cost to society in the form of pollution, traffic congestion, greenhouse gas emissions and wear and tear on roads.

That test was two years ago. It had been hoped by per-mileage tax advocates that the system would by now be in place in the Netherlands, which by some reports is the European nation with the highest average commuting time.

But when a new no-new-taxes government took over in the Netherlands last year, it halted the program.

Still, the European Union is urging its members to try distance charging and Belgium plans to start a small trial of 50 drivers in September.

As someone who works from home and doesn't drive much, a per-mile tax is appealing to me. Of course, other fees and taxes would have to be reduced or eliminated to offset the new charge.

What do you think? Do your driving habits make you a good candidate for a mileage-based transportation tax?

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I'd think a per-mile charge would create an isolated society where people stay behind their own closed doors. Yes, we'd have social media channels, but nothing replaces old=fashioned contact.

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