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Black boxes: Big brother tax or solution for road improvements - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Black boxes: Big brother tax or solution for road improvements

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Texarkana, Texas -

Is it Uncle Sam reaching into your pocket or big brother peering over your shoulder?
    
Black boxes installed in America's cars and trucks are being considered as a way to fund improvements to the nation's crumbling highway system.
    
The devices would track drivers, monitor their speed, and then tax them for every mile they drive.

Ohio driver Rusty Lea drives a hybrid vehicle and says he wouldn't have a problem with having a black box installed in his car.

"I don't mind them if they are used for the original intent which is for safety, pulling out crash information or safety information to help improve the cars," said Lea.

What he doesn't want, is the boxes used as tool for taxing motorists.  

Monitored via a small black box mounted by the car dashboard, the devices would allow the state and federal government to keep track of the miles you drive, and possibly where you drive them, then use the information to draw up a tax bill.

"I think the best thing is to keep it like it's always been," said Lea. "Keep it as a gasoline tax because you'll hurt people who do a lot of driving."

Texas Department of Transportation Public Information Officer Marcus Sandifer says the last time there was a fuel tax increase was in the 90's.

He says revenue on fuel taxes have been flat.

"We're reaching the point where we're only bringing enough money in to pay for the maintenance of the roadways we now have, we won't be able to construct new highways," said Sandifer.

Sandifer says mileage based user fees would actually be a fairer way of taxing drivers, especially those who don't spend much time on the roadways.

"There's more people using the roadways but they are not paying as much as they use to because they have better, fuel efficient vehicles," explained Sandifer.

It's a similar story in Louisiana, the Bayou state's basic gas tax that was set in 1984 didn't include an inflation provision, meaning the buying power of that 16-cent-a-gallon tax today is less than 8 cents.

That's one reason the state has a 12 billion dollar backlog of transportation projects, according to Driving Louisiana Forward, an advocacy group that includes construction contractors.
 
Supporters say the devices would help states with costly road repairs, but opponents say the government could trace drivers' every move.

"There are serious privacy concerns that need to be addressed, once again you have technology that has outpaced the law. We have to think about how we do this, said Rita Sklar, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas.

She says owners would need to be aware of the black boxes and be able to disable them.

Meanwhile, Lea believes raising the fuel tax is the best solution.

"It would be a good place to start, it would still get you, but it would get you to a lesser degree and there would less involvement of the government in your life," said Lea. "It would be done at the pump."  

The push to find financial road solutions comes as the country's highway trust fund, financed with taxes Americans pay at the gas pump, is broke.

The federal tax itself, 18.4 cents per gallon, hasn't gone up in 20 years.

Politicians are loath to raise the tax even one penny when gas prices are high.

Thousands of motorists have already taken the black boxes for a test drive.

The most eager state is Oregon, which is enlisting 5,000 drivers in the country's biggest experiment.
    
Those drivers will soon pay the mileage fees instead of gas taxes to the state.
    
Nevada has already completed a pilot.
    
New York City is looking into one.
    
Illinois is trying it on a limited basis with trucks.

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