OPINION EDITORIAL: Pay by the mile? 39th District citizens say ‘no.’ Let’s keep it that way!
There seems to be no end to the ideas state government comes up with to take your hard-earned money. Two years ago, the Legislature adopted an 11.9 cent gas tax hike and numerous vehicle fee increases to pay for a 16-year, $16 billion statewide transportation improvement package. Although Washington is now the state with the second highest gas tax in the nation at 49.4 cents per gallon, transportation officials say that's not enough. They want more of your money!
Washington State Transportation Commission Executive Director Reema Griffith recently stated in statewide newspaper articles her concerns that new fuel-efficient vehicles could eventually result in less gas tax collections and the state won't be able to keep up with transportation needs. To generate revenue for future needs, she suggests a “road usage charge,” in which you would pay by the mile.
Last year, the Legislature directed the state Transportation Commission to test a pay-by-mile system. In August, the Transportation Commission received a $3.8 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration to create a statewide pilot program that would test the road usage charge concept. A website has been launched — Washington Road Usage Charge Pilot Project — and officials are hoping at least 2,000 volunteers will sign up for the program by this fall.
Volunteers will test one of four payment systems, ranging from a year-long permit that allows them to drive unlimited miles to a smartphone app that automatically tracks all the miles they travel. Other options include using odometer readings to gauge miles traveled or an automated meter inside the vehicle, neither of which would require GPS location data. During the test period, drivers wouldn't be charged for miles they travel.
I oppose a pay-by-mile system because I believe it is unfair to our rural citizens. Some people must drive 50 to 75 miles to see a doctor. Many people in the 39th District commute from their homes in Snohomish County to work in Everett or the Seattle metro area. They would pay more than those who live a few miles from their workplace.
There are also concerns over privacy. While transportation officials assure the public the equipment that would be installed in vehicles to track mileage does not currently contain GPS tracking, there is no guarantee that would not change once the program is fully implemented.
In a recent online survey included in my e-newsletter, I asked recipients, “Do you support a pay-by-mile road usage charge?” Nearly 90 percent of those who responded said “no!”
One respondent wrote: “This will bring a heavy penalty to rural citizens. I live in eastern Skagit County and can't walk to the grocery store like those in the city. If I want to buy farm supplies, I drive 40 miles round trip. Who says the pay-by-mile charge will actually replace the gas tax?” Another said, “I do not want any part of it and I do not want the government knowing how many miles I drive or where I drive!”
Although I disagree with pay-by-mile, I am encouraging local citizens to participate in the 12-month pilot program. If 2,000 drivers sign up primarily from Seattle and mainly other like-minded people who love this concept, the study will be skewed and we will end up with permanent pay-by-mile. We need diverse drivers from across the state to sign up — pizza drivers, landscapers, traveling salespeople, Realtors and more, to provide their true input.
Go to www.waroadusagecharge.org to sign up. Remember, no one will be charged for their mileage while in the pilot program.
If participants find this program intrusive and potentially pricey, it may provide the influence we need in the Legislature to stop state transportation bureaucrats from eventually forcing you to pay every time you get in your car.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Rep. John Koster, R-Arlington, represents the 39th Legislative District. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7816 or through his website: RepresentativeJohnKoster.com.