State Explores Pay-by-the-Mile Alternative to Gas Tax—What Do You Think?

Transportation officials say a fresh approach is needed as gas-tax revenues continue to decline.

An ongoing decline in gas-tax revenue has prompted Washington state transportation officials to consider a pay-by-the-mile roadway tax system, The Associated Press reports.

A committee of transportation experts recently concluded a pay-as-you-go system would be feasible in Washington; the state must now determine whether doing so is a good idea—and how the new structure would be implemented.

Would you support a pay-by-the-mile tax system? Tell us in the comments section.

Washington's gas tax has long been the primary revenue source for highway repair and maintenance in our state. But the tax has been hit hard as vehicles become more fuel efficient and people opt to drive less. President Obama's new fuel-efficiency standards are expected to further exacerbate the problem.

"The gas tax is dwindling," state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond told the AP. "It would be irresponsible for us not to look ahead and take care of our system in the future."

Pay-by-the mile is not a clear-cut solution. It has yet to be widely implemented by any state, and questions remain on how best to track miles without raising privacy issues.

Hammond said it could be a decade or more before Washington implements any new transportation tax system.

Chuck Maddox January 11, 2013 at 07:47 AM
By the time they set up a program to collect each persons miles, it would probably cost the state more than they say they are loosing, but that is the way Government does it. Normally they don't have a clue of what the offset is. If they left road tax dollors where they were designed to be, the state would probably have the road funds. Any dollors that end up in the General Fund, become a grab bag.-------RIGHT ON LISA.
Jason F. January 11, 2013 at 10:08 AM
Agreed, firing the leader who proposed this would be best.
Jason F. January 11, 2013 at 10:11 AM
Jason F. January 11, 2013 at 10:17 AM
We need to reduce useless spending on stupid programs like "Public Transportation" and promoting HOV/Bike lanes...which help a very very very small group of people.
Musique January 11, 2013 at 03:01 PM
I vote for you!
Musique January 11, 2013 at 03:07 PM
I do wish people would stop pitting one political party after another and just talk about the issue at hand without attacking. It only angers others. Lets all try to be nice.
Joe M January 11, 2013 at 03:08 PM
I'll ignore the personal attacks. You clearly know nothing about me. I prefer facts. Our roads are crap because of decades of denial about our transportation infrastructure. We believed we could keep newcomers out by not building roads or mass transit. Well the newcomers came anyway, and we've got a lot of catching up to do. And we live in a place with complex geography that makes road construction expensive. Washington has no money for two main reasons. (1) We have the most regressive tax system of all 50 states. (2) The majority of state tax revenue comes from sales tax. When the economy goes sour, poor and middle class are hit the hardest, their spending goes way down, and state tax revenue goes way down. If you want the state to spend money on roads, either wait for the economy to get better or raise taxes. I have no argument with those who think that some of the money spent on mass transit is wasted. But there are some successes that should be expanded and duplicated. The Swift buses that run from Shoreline to Everett are a good example. I'd love to see bus rapid transit go into Seattle. When spent wisely, money spent on mass transit and HOV helps everybody by reducing the number of cars on the roads we've already paid for. I don't use mass transit much, but I'm happy to help pay for it because it makes the roads I use less crowded.
Nathan Perea January 11, 2013 at 03:50 PM
Joe, our states intake of total tax revenue has never declined. We are not out of money. Its a fact. We have a problem in prioritizing our spending.
Joe M January 11, 2013 at 04:02 PM
Nathan, if you have a credible source showing that per capita tax revenues in Washington have never declined, I'd like to see it. I just don't think that's true, even if you ignore adjustments for inflation.
Joe M January 11, 2013 at 05:28 PM
After I posted, the user whose message I replied to changed their profile name to be LocalSupporter. Just in case anyone wonders why I addressed this person as Nathan.
Nathan Perea January 11, 2013 at 06:03 PM
Joe M - I don't know why it changed my screen name to LocalSupporter... that was an old account. here's the source http://www.fiscal.wa.gov/ - the state's budget transparency site. the best picture for historical comparison is in the expenditure side. Since our state cannot run a budget deficit, a.k.a. expenditures must equal revenue, see here http://www.fiscal.wa.gov/SpendHist.aspx and using terms like "per capita tax revenue" is just government speak for "adjusting gross statistics to make it look like a decline". When you throw an additional $1Billion at an agency year over year (i.e. K-12) and they are still asking for more, you can throw your "per capita" stuff out the window.... that's just called hemorrhaging money due to out of control cost management. Please note - our current budget for 2011-2013 is nearly $4 BILLION bigger than the previous. Our budget is not shrinking.
Joe M January 11, 2013 at 06:38 PM
The numbers were indeed interesting. If you ignore population growth and inflation, the revenues are going up faster than I would have thought. If you factor those in, revenues are declining. I don't understand your argument against looking at per-capita revenue. When government revenues don't keep pace with population growth, the amount they can spend per citizen gets smaller. And inflation is likewise relevant. I don't have any more time to sift through these numbers, so I'll leave this discussion to others. I appreciate your efforts to bring facts into this discussion.
Mark Cockerill January 12, 2013 at 03:45 AM
I would want to know a lot more about how they are going to track the individual miles for each commuter whether they drive their own car or take public transit. I would also want to know more about how they can reduce the current cost of road building and maintenance. There is probably a fair amount of fat in production cost that could be trimmed.
Jon H January 13, 2013 at 03:44 PM
Musique - Well it is fair to point out WHO is driving this agenda. It is a simple fact that the progressive/democrats want to mold us into their utopian vision via larger and ever-present government and force us into sub-optimal & expensive solutions (LRT).
Jon H January 13, 2013 at 03:55 PM
Joe - isn't tolling a VERY regressive form of taxation? The state has not shown any amount of prioritization. From their perspective 'everything' must be done. Just ask State Rep Clibborn who in the last Mercer Island City Council meeting made essentially this comment. The bid and labor processes / terms have not been considered. Prevailing wage is a crazy protectionist notion that should be illegal. In other contexts we call this price fixing, it is illegal and immoral. Market wage is what is required. It isn't just about paying less, it is about getting the best current rate that both parties agree.
Jon H January 13, 2013 at 04:04 PM
Joe - Core inflation http://ycharts.com/indicators/us_core_inflation_rate population growth has occurred, but the rate of growth has been in decline (second). http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/planning/wtp/datalibrary/population/WSPopulationGrowth.htm Ignore the forecast because we don't see data about their prior forecasts to know how good they are (I bet they aren't that good). The state budget has nearly doubled since the early 90s. Yet I don't see the results. Our per-student spending is nearly 12K, but education suffers (apart from a few bright spots, which are largely driven by socioeconomic factors).
Joe M January 13, 2013 at 04:06 PM
Jon, I agree that tolling and this nutso idea of pay by the mile are very regressive forms of taxation. But Washington voters demand regressive taxation nearly every time there's an initiative on the ballot. I generally dislike assuming that voters are stupid or ignorant, but in this case it seems like the best explanation. The weirdness of Washington politics is part of why I love this place.
Jon H January 13, 2013 at 04:14 PM
Until we see a discussion that includes the items below, I say the state can pound sand. * Eliminate Prevailing wage * Increased data privacy and security laws beyond what exists * Reforms to the contracting process * Prioritization across the entire portfolio * Taxes on studded tires (I have always been surprised we don't account for the Ballard Blizzard drivers with their VW Beetle and studded tires driving around the city for 6 months trashing the street) * Removing all transfers of road & transit money from the general fund by law. All money collected by licensing, tolling, gas and transit revenue must be used for those purposes. * Transit must pay for 50% of its capital and operations costs with revenues (fares, advertising, etc) by law. This can be treated as a matching account, but the transit system must not be subsidized beyond a point. It already skews choice to sub-optimal levels.
stephen January 15, 2013 at 04:31 PM
5) Let public / mass transit be paid for by those who use the service. ALL of us use the service, even if you don't actually ride. Every Metro passenger is one less car on the road.
stephen January 15, 2013 at 04:33 PM
Ok, genius, how would YOU propose we pay for our roads?
Jon H January 15, 2013 at 06:46 PM
stephen - really? And what is the opportunity cost to get that bus on the road or the light rail track built? How much better could the freeways be if the same money was applied to them? If transit was such a winning proposition people would naturally find it worth the cost. Basically, you can't sell transit with massive subsidy. People are capable of making trade-off decisions on their own.
stephen January 15, 2013 at 10:17 PM
Jon: When I lived in San Diego they opened a brand-new, shiny freeway with plenty of lanes that everyone thought would solve traffic forever. It was nice the first several months. Within a year it was just as congested as every other older freeway and it served to underscore that PAIN is necessary in any transportation system. We can't build enough lane-miles no matter how hard we try, some congestion is necessary to balance the load onto other modes. Even though I don't ride the bus or the light rail I will support paying them to maintain an overall balanced system. So, if we put all of our bus and rail money into the roads, the roads would be much better. The congestion wouldn't be.
Jon H January 15, 2013 at 10:47 PM
stephan - all I am saying is the the opportunity cost should be considered. For example, Sound Transit spends however many billions of dollars to put light rail around the area with taxes, debt and siphoning of funds from other non-transit revenue streams and yet they could have spent way less, added bus transit (even some bus lanes) for much less. My argument isn't that there isn't a case for transit, I just think the subsidy level should be capped so that efficient choices are made. If you have to subsidize something more than 50% to approach viability then you are missing something. And when these systems (esp. trains) are sold the public is told of the grand utopia that awaits. But In the case of Seattle light rail, they didn't add park and ride facilities. Also, it took a long time for any sort of bus schedule coordination to serve the train. So to add insult to injury, the are oversold to get past the public's demands for an effective system.
stephen January 15, 2013 at 11:23 PM
Jon, You have a valid point and I agree with that. The nice thing about trains is that the infrastructure grows around it. We're not building trains to solve today's transportation problems, we're building the network to solve the problems we anticipate in 20 years. By then, high-density housing will have developed close to all of the major stops. Look at DC. Everyone wants to live close to an M stop.
Kirkland parent February 19, 2013 at 08:37 PM
Keep taxing us and people are going to move away. All of this taxing is making it more and more difficult to make ends meet let alone add to the general economy grow index. Just keep taxing us out of our homes.... what a great concept.
Local Guy February 20, 2013 at 04:05 AM
"When spent wisely, money spent on mass transit and HOV helps everybody by reducing the number of cars on the roads we've already paid for. I don't use mass transit much, but I'm happy to help pay for it because it makes the roads I use less crowded." Good, because you are paying $89 for every $11 in Sound Transit fares collected. Helluva deal...
Jim Stanton February 20, 2013 at 04:55 PM
The gas tax is the least invasive user tax and takes into account to some extent the wear and tear than different vehicles cause. Big, low mileage trucks use more gas than a Prius and do a lot more damage to the roads. I also support raising the gas tax for three more reasons: 1) it uses pricing (the market) to encourage high mileage vehicles 2) it raises needed money for our roads and transportation system, and 3) it doesn't allow the government to track my every move.
LARRY HAYDON February 22, 2013 at 01:32 AM
LARRY HAYDON February 22, 2013 at 01:47 AM
you are corret. it is not the tax payers fault that that they do not have enough tax now. the goverment is the one that made us all get rid of our big cars that were safe and had room for all the family plus room for suit cases and now buy these small cramped up cars that in a wreck will kill most the people. just because they do not use much gas and not paying all that gas tax is not the publics fault. also if all that gas tax was used on the roads instead of all there pork projects so they can keep getting elected, then they would not need a raise in the tax. all the politions want is more taxes, they never use it where it should go. also if seattle wants an other ferry, then they should buy it themselves.no reason all the people here should pay for it. they have been robbing the east side of the state all the time. fire all the politions if they pas this tax.
Tere Ryder April 10, 2013 at 02:45 PM
In the 70s during the oil embargo people actually started conserving on gas and drove smaller cars. Now we have ROAD WARRIORS that drive these obscene HUGE trucks and Suvs and actually think it is their right to despoil the environment even more. These are the people that need to be taxed right out of their stupidity.....It is NOW a no brainer about our environment. The companies that continue to make thesse should be taxed also


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