Washington road usage charge is not to be trusted, Dori says

Oct 20, 2015, 4:54 PM | Updated: Oct 21, 2015, 2:28 pm

The Chevy Bolt is one model of electric car that will be rolling into the market next year. It repo...

The Chevy Bolt is one model of electric car that will be rolling into the market next year. It reportedly will travel 200 miles on a charge, and its drivers won't pay any gas taxes. (AP/Tony Ding)

(AP/Tony Ding)

Drivers sporting hybrids or electric cars have not only touted a sporty ride in recent years, but also the savings they make at the gas pump.

Now that might change if a new Washington state tax plan hits the road.

“When gas spiked up to $4 a gallon a couple summers ago, my buddies at Evergreen Ford said to try this new hybrid car,” KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson said. “And I was getting 200 miles to the gallon. It was awesome, incredible. Because most of my driving was in the all-electric range.”

“One of the reasons a lot of people drive electric cars, or the hybrids … you figure that you don’t have to pay for gas, or the gas tax, and you can make it up on the back end,” he said.

But the Washington State Department of Transportation is considering a new form of taxing in support of state roads: a road usage charge. If its commission approves, WSDOT would recommend the road usage charge to the Legislature, who would then consider it.

It basically is a tax per mile. Drivers are charged for how far they drive on state roads. The idea gets Dori revved up; listing off a litany of arguments against it.

“The gas tax won’t go away, this will be in addition to the gas tax,” Dori speculated.

Related: Drivers wasted 63 hours stuck in Seattle traffic last year

The sentiment behind a by-the-mile tax is that as cars become more fuel efficient, or hybrids cut down on gas usage, or use of electric cars &#8212 that don’t use gas at all &#8212 increases, the gas tax revenue decreases. By taxing for road usage, the aim would be to “level the playing field,” according to Transportation Commissioner Reema Griffith. Then, more fuel efficient cars would contribute as much as gas guzzlers.

Griffith told KIRO TV that while the average car in Washington goes 20 miles per gallon, in a couple decades that efficiency can go up to as much as 35 miles per gallon, equating to a 45 percent drop in gas tax revenue.

“This makes a lot more sense to me than the gas tax,” said show producer Jake Skorheim. “So they would just do this; people would figure out how much they owe for transportation taxes based on the miles they drive. So get rid of the gas tax, and tax by the mile.”

Washington’s gas tax is currently 44.5 cents per gallon. A federal gas tax is also included at the pump at 18.4 cents per gallon. A switch to the tax-by-mile approach, according to KIRO TV, would have the average car paying $25 per month. Trucks and SUV’s, using more gas, would save about $7.93 in taxes. Hybrids, however, would pay $14.02 more in taxes.

Dori doesn’t believe the gas tax would go away, and this would end up being a new, additional tax.

“I guarantee you, this isn’t a way to cut the taxes for those of us who buy gas at the pump,” he said. “It’s a way to add more revenue from people who drive hybrids and electric cars.”

There are different ways the state could track the mile usage of each driver. So far, methods using GPS and simply checking a car’s odometer have been discussed at the state level, KIRO 7 reports.

That is another reason Dori is wary of the idea.

“I don’t want government tracking where we drive, how far we drive, how long we’re gone,” he said. “The privacy problem associated with this is enormous.”

Not to mention: How would the state know of drivers were in Washington or Oregon or elsewhere?

Dori also argues that for a state that aims to be more environmentally friendly, the tax would disincentive people from buying hybrids and electric cars because they wouldn’t save any money at the pump. In the end, it would go against the aims of people like Governor Jay Inslee who wants Washington to be the greenest state.

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Washington road usage charge is not to be trusted, Dori says