Washington will consider taxing drivers by the mile

Washington will reportedly consider taxing drivers by the mile, and will test the idea next year.

In an effort to satisfy the appetite of its state Department of Transportation, Washington will launch what it calls a “pilot program” that will charge drivers for the miles they drive, rather than the gallons of gasoline they use, according to the Tacoma News Tribune.

It is an idea that came under fire from KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson during Tuesday’s noon hour broadcast, and News Tribune readers are not happy. Social media is also heating up.

According to the story:

“The pilot program will include 2,000 drivers from across the state. The yearlong test will explore ways that the state could charge drivers for road usage, which the state is looking at as a potential alternative to the gas tax it now imposes to pay for road projects.

“Right now, drivers in Washington pay a 49.4-cent state tax on each gallon of gasoline they buy, which helps fund road projects and highway maintenance throughout the state.

“But state officials warn that over time, gas tax revenues won’t keep up with the cost of highway projects and maintaining the state’s roads and freeways — mainly, because vehicles are becoming more fuel efficient.

“By 2035, the state Transportation Commission predicts gas tax revenues will decline by 45 percent per mile driven, as the average vehicle’s fuel efficiency is projected to climb from 20.5 miles per gallon to 35 miles per gallon.”

So, because government encouraged people to buy more fuel efficient vehicles, tax revenue is declining and the bureaucrats have to create a new way to stay in the driving public’s wallet.

It has been observed by at least one critic of pay-per-mile schemes, “Once they can control your movement, they’ve got you.”

An earlier story in the newspaper noted that gas tax revenues that had been climbing have now hit a plateau and “are expected to head downward.” This, from a state that charges 49.4 cents a gallon tax, the second highest in the nation, according to a Tax Foundation report this past March; only Pennsylvania was ahead at the time of the report.

This pilot program will reportedly involve 2,000 drivers around the state and will last for one year. According to the newspaper, the tax-per-mile would be 1.9 cents, which will translate to $9.50 for every 500 miles someone drives. This will hammer people in rural areas who may have to commute long distances to work, school or even the grocery store. It will affect hikers, hunters, anglers, campers and other recreationists.

Some questions have been raised:

  • Do bicycle riders pay for bicycle lanes?
  • Are buses/public transit subsidized by the current gas tax?
  • Do owners of hybrid or electric cars pay any kind of highway tax?
  • If the pay-per-mile tax is adopted, does that mean the current per-gallon gas tax will be eliminated?

If this idea takes hold, expect other states to begin adopting it. Oregon has already been testing the idea, the newspaper said, so Washington – where fiscal conservatism sometimes seems in short supply – will likely go full speed ahead.


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