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Mike: Replace Washington gas tax by inflating tire prices

(Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

While the state of Washington ponders how to make the switch from a declining gas tax to a more stable miles-traveled tax, it is faced with a fair amount of pushback from people who don’t want their cars tracked by a state-mandated device.

The state’s budding response has been to find a maximum annual tax to assign to the resistors who don’t want the vehicle tracking device that would assess the proposed 2.4-cents per mile tax to fund work on state highways.

But why is the max tax the only option? Here’s a better solution for people who don’t want a mileage tracking device: tax tires. Every tire sold in the state of Washington, every tire sold online to a Washington address, every tire possible in the state. And not just cars, but bicycles and motorcycles, every single vehicle that uses tires on public roads.

Electric vehicles use tires. Same for high-mileage hybrids. Every vehicle does. (Note: If you use a helicopter or jetpack, this story is not for you.) If you get the tracking device, you get the tax rebate.

Moreover, all the money raised should go to road repair as the gas tax does now. Not the general fund.

Tire types and sizes are firmly linked to gross vehicle weight, among other factors. Tire wear largely depends on miles driven. And road wear depends on gross vehicle weight and miles driven. Ask people who build roads. They will tell you the impact on roads of gross vehicle weight.

Have you noticed when your city puts in concrete paving for bus stops and bus lanes? This is why.

The paying by the miles solution makes sense in the same way all usage fees do. But the people who don’t want to track their vehicle should have a usage fee, too. Will they drive out of state to purchase tires if they live in Spokane, for example? I don’t know. Do they travel right now to buy gas? Probably. But no tax can account for every variable for ducking it.

The feds already offer a tax rebate for gross vehicle weight for tractor trailers. The feds understand the impact of gross vehicle weight and of giving commercial vehicle owners a break. But even the feds miss the boat when it comes to assessing the fees or credits because the assessment or rebate does not vary based on miles driven.

So make it tires. Some people are happy with a discrete, VIN-linked GPS tracker that looks only at miles. And the ones who don’t want the device?  Make them pay a surcharge on their tires. And before you tell me this gives people a perverse incentive to driver longer on bad tires, take a look around. They already do.

No tax system is perfect, but if we want to make it fair, if we want to create a system that also is fair to people who want less government intrusion in the form of tracking or facial recognition, give them a fair option. A tire tax is that option.

Tell me I’m wrong.

Listen to the Candy, Mike and Todd Show weekday afternoons from 3-7 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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