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Oregon will move to tax cars by the mile

The gas tax would be phased out and drivers monitored by GPS and subjected to a mileage tax instead.

In a step toward making driving in your own vehicle akin to taking a taxi cab that charges by distance traveled, Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski plans to recommend his state transition away from the gas tax in 2009, eventually replacing it with a mileage tax. A task force has studied how this could be done:

As part of a transportation-related bill he has filed for the 2009 legislative session, the governor says he plans to recommend “a path to transition away from the gas tax as the central funding source for transportation.” What that means is explained on the governor’s website:

“As Oregonians drive less and demand more fuel-efficient vehicles, it is increasingly important that the state find a new way, other than the gas tax, to finance our transportation system.”

According to the policies he has outlined online, [Gov. Ted] Kulongoski proposes to continue the work of the special task force that came up with and tested the idea of a mileage tax to replace the gas tax. The governor wants the task force “to partner with auto manufacturers to refine technology that would enable Oregonians to pay for the transportation system based on how many miles they drive.”

Northwest policy makers are increasing looking at alternative means of paying for roads. The Puget Sound Regional Council completed its own study of "road pricing" that would charge driver's tolls depending on where they drove and when. Study groups in Seattle has suggested transitioning to the same kind of system. Matt Rosenberg, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center, had an overview of the so-called Vehicle Miles Traveled tax (VMT) here on Crosscut. Some officials are concerned that since we will run out of oil before we lose our interest in cars and trucks, a new way of funding transportation has to be found and user fees are one way to do that.

The Oregon mileage tax proponents claim that GPS satellite tracking systems installed in vehicles by the manufacturers would not gather or transmit data on where and when people travel, but multiple studies have cited public privacy as a major public concern.

Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattle magazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at mossback@crosscut.com.


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