Is Washington considering a tolling expansion to replace gas tax?

Aug 10, 2020, 2:08 PM | Updated: Aug 11, 2020, 5:41 am
Congestion tolling Seattle...

A recent report from the Washington Policy Center suggests that the state may be mulling the possibility of replacing the gas tax with more road tolling, and potentially an added form of revenue. But just how realistic is this and how widespread could it become? Mariya Frost from Washington Policy Center joined the Dori Monson Show on KIRO Radio to discuss.

“So in preparing for the 2021 transportation budget looming ahead in the upcoming legislative session, the governor’s office staff laid out several revenue options that they might consider in the governor’s transportation budget proposal. One of those revenue options is a road usage charge. What was so interesting about the line on the road usage charges is that in parentheses they said that it has been proposed as a replacement for the gas tax, but they could consider a replacement plus new revenue,” she said.

“That was kind of a red flag for me. So I emailed the staffer who wrote this document, the senior policy adviser, and they refused to give me a clear answer on what that meant,” she added. “They simply said the document that you are referencing is a deliberative internal staff document that lists ideas, which have not been vetted, furthered, or advanced.”

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So this potentially would be replacing the gas tax and taxing on something completely different as well. Is that what they mean when they say replacement and new revenue?

“It could mean the governor’s office would like a road usage charge to supplement the gas tax until the gas tax is retired. Because right now, our gas taxes are bonded out for 30 years, and so it can’t be taken off the books for quite some time … I don’t think that’s what it means, because they would lose substantial revenue because they would be double taxing us for 30 years,” Frost said.

“The other alternative is it could mean that a gas tax is replaced with a much more expensive mileage tax that’s not revenue neutral to what we’re paying right now. That’s probably what it means. Neither of these things are good, and certainly neither of these things are in line with what the Washington State Transportation Commission has recommended. That’s what concerns me.”

WA Policy Center’s Mariya Frost: Mileage tax could include variable pricing

While much of this is still in the speculative state, could this be leading to a pay-per-mile charge in which drivers are paying for the length of the individual trips they take?

“That’s not outside the realm of possibility. As you and I talked last month, the Washington State Department of Transportation secretary commented that he would like a road usage charge to include congestion pricing, which is exactly that, where you’re paying a different rate based on when you travel, where you’re traveling, and he also noted the other purpose of your trip,” Frost said.

“So what’s amazing to me about all of this is that you’ve got the Western State Transportation Commission putting out pretty decent recommendations, that this should be protected for highway purposes, that we need to really look at privacy,” she said. “But then you’ve got the governor’s office and the State Department Transportation secretary who have very, very different ideas about what this should look like.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Is Washington considering a tolling expansion to replace gas tax?