Washington needs to come up with an alternative to its gas tax.
That is the easy part; with more fuel-efficient vehicles and an increase in electric and hybrid cars, the state’s gas tax is providing less and less revenue for building and maintaining roads. The difficulty comes in trying to devise a proposal to phase out the current tax. That will be the task facing the Washington Transportation Commission when it votes in December for a plan to send to next year’s Legislature.
Washington’s gas tax is 49.5 cents per gallon, the third-highest in the nation. Added to the federal tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, Washington motorists are paying nearly 68 cents for each gallon they pump into their vehicles. The federal gas tax has been unchanged since 1993.
Washington’s tax is high in part because lawmakers have few gadgets in their tool box for raising revenue. With the state eschewing an income tax and a capital gains tax, other taxes are likely to be higher than average; roads do not pay for themselves.
But with the purchasing power of the gas tax gently decreasing, changes are needed. The state undertook a pilot project over the past year to assess a pay-per-mile tax, with 2,000 volunteers paying for their time on the road rather than their time at the pump. Results will be compiled and presented to the transportation commission before the commission sends a proposal to the Legislature.
There are concerns about a pay-per-mile system. One of them is the method for recording mileage without unduly invading privacy. Many people are understandably leery about using a GPS device that tracks their location. Other issues: Paying for miles driven could inequitably hit residents in rural areas or low-income people who live far from work because of housing costs; and out-of-state driving could result in being taxed twice.