CHOKEPOINTS

Could be ‘several decades’ before pay-per-mile tax takes effect

Dec 18, 2019, 9:13 AM | Updated: 9:17 am

Charging you for every mile you drive instead of a gas tax took one more step forward yesterday. It’s now up to the state Legislature to decide what will happen next, although it might be awhile before anything ever takes effect.

‘Pay-per-mile’ system clears major hurdle

We’re essentially in the same place we have been for years, since a road usage charge was always going to land in the Legislature’s lap. What the Washington Transportation Commission did was decide on what it wants the Legislature to consider as it begins the debate on a transition away from a gas tax to a pay-by-mile system.

The commission believes the state should move in the pay-per-mile direction, but it expects the process to take a decade or longer before it could take effect, because current construction bonds are tied to the gas tax. Those have to be paid off, meaning there could be up to 25 years where the state would have a gas tax and a road usage tax.

To avoid the possibility of double-taxing drivers, the commission went so far as to recommend the road usage charge not take effect for “likely several decades.”

There are also massive privacy concerns about having GPS trackers in your car, if that’s how the Legislature wants to determine the road usage charge for each driver. With Oregon only recently instituting a similar tax, this is largely uncharted territory for lawmakers, as they figure out a way to balance privacy concerns with the logistics of tracking mileage for every driver in the state.

Dori: Pay-per-mile tax the fight of our financial lives

The commission believes the state should start slowly, starting the pay-by-mile system with electric or hybrid cars that pay less gas tax now. It also suggests converting the state motor pool over the the system before the general public.

There is also going to be a huge fight over where the money goes. Under the state constitution, the 49-cents-a-gallon gas tax is required to go toward roads, and the commission wants any road usage taxes to have that same constitutional protection. It also has concerns that lawmakers will siphon the money away to their pet projects, leaving the roads without a stable source of funding.

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Could be ‘several decades’ before pay-per-mile tax takes effect