Washington state considers taxing drivers by the mile

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Transportation officials are considering replacing Washington state's gas tax to a system that would charge drivers by the mile.

The News Tribune reported Wednesday that the state Transportation Commission is expected to vote in December on tax recommendations to give the state Legislature.

Democratic state Sen. Rebecca Saldana, vice chairwoman of the transportation committee, says the state can't rely long term on gas tax revenue to fund transportation needs because vehicles have become more fuel-efficient.

She says if lawmakers support a pay-per-mile system, the tax would need to be phased in over 10 to 25 years.

The state Legislature would set the rate people are taxed for the miles they drive as well as how the mileage is reported to the state.

High gas tax

Right now, Washington state has the second-highest gas tax in the country at 49 cents per gallon. Only Pennsylvania is higher.

On top of that, the feds tax another 18 cents per gallon. The money pays for highways, roads, bridges and ferries.

Many states, including Washington, have been testing programs paid for by federal grants that track drivers and their road usage. Here in Washington, 2,000 drivers signed up to take part in a 12-month pilot program.

They were given plug-in devices that go under their dashboard and track their miles.

Washington state has been studying the idea for the past seven years. Q13 News spoke to the executive director of the state transportation commission to find out where this is all heading.

"We think a lot of work would need to be done on the national level," said Reema Griffith with the state transportation commission. "But in the meantime we're demonstrating it's very feasible at the state level. It's just a question of public acceptance."

Most seem to think states will do this first and work out the kinks; then the federal government will follow.

The state of Oregon is leading the way. It already has a program involving 5,000 drivers. They're charged 1.7 cents per mile and they get a bill that gives them a tax credit for paying their gas tax of 34 cents a gallon.

It sounds like the "pay per mile" would replace the gas tax, so you would not pay both. The state transportation commission is now crunching data from its pilot program. They plan to come up with some recommendations for lawmakers this summer.