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Still plenty of questions as state mulls replacement for gas tax

State lawmakers continue to search for a replacement for the gas tax. (Photo Illustration by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The future of transportation funding could be changing over the next decade, as Washington considers a pay-by-mile system over the gas tax.

Washington’s road usage charge pilot is over — what now?

The gas tax just isn’t cutting it any more. As cars become more fuel efficient and electric cars become more popular, people aren’t buying as much gas as they used to. That means the state is getting less of the 49.4 cents a gallon than it used to.

Washington wrapped-up a year long pilot program earlier this year, testing 2,000 drivers in a hypothetical pay-by-mile system, also known as a road usage charge.

The results of that test are starting to come out, and it sounds like a majority of those in the pilot program like the pay-by-mile idea. Sixty-eight percent liked the idea as much as the gas tax. Nineteen percent preferred the gas tax. The rest weren’t sure.

The Washington State Transportation Commission will come up with its final recommendations to the Legislature in late December — it’s up to lawmakers as to what happens next, and that will be the big fight.

There are privacy concerns, especially if a GPS tracking device will be used to calculate miles. The commission spent a lot of time yesterday discussing how to ensure that information would be protected, or even exempt, from public disclosure.

There is a huge problem with where the money would go. Under state law, the gas tax must be used for transportation. The commission is worried the Legislature would find a way around that and funnel the money for roads into other programs. This road usage charge is supposed to replace it, and the commission wants to make sure the money goes to the right place.

There is also concern over how long it would take to implement, and how long there would be a dual system. Since many roads have outstanding debt tied to the gas tax, it would likely be 10 to 25 years before the gas tax could be eliminated.

Drivers would be forced to fill out forms to get credits or refunds to make sure they aren’t being double taxed.

We also don’t know who would pay.Will it only be electric cars? Will it be everyone?

Could pay-per-mile lead to automated speeding tickets?

Commercial vehicles and trucks would not pay the road usage charge. Out of state drivers wouldn’t either. They would still pay the gas tax.

We still don’t know how much it would cost per mile. The pilot project assumed 2.4 cents per mile. That equals the existing gas tax, but it will be up to the Legislature to decide the final price.

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