Taxes & Spending

Wanted: Volunteers to pay Oregon’s road user tax

Wanted: Volunteers to pay Oregon’s road user tax

This article was originally published by watchdog.org.

Oregon is looking for up to 5,000 drivers to volunteer to pay a road usage tax.

bill that passed the legislature and awaits Gov. John Kitzhaber’s signature, would create a voluntary road user fee program that lets drivers pay a 1.5 cents per mile tax. In return, volunteers would apply for reimbursement of the 30 cents per gallon gas tax and any miles traveled on private roads.

Anyone lining up?

The legislation increases the Oregon Department of Transportation’s budget by $2.8 million to get the program ready for a 2015 start. The money, according to legislative budget documents, would be used for eight full time employees and equipment that would be installed in volunteers’ vehicles to calculate the miles driven.

As lawmakers said during debate over the bill – which had bipartisan sponsorship – it’s not revenue generating.

Revenue leaking, perhaps?

The voluntary program came to life as another bill that would have required vehicles that get more than 55 miles per gallon to pay a per mile charge, died. The voluntary program is a step in that direction. It would allow up to 5,000 volunteers but no more than 1,500 can drive vehicles that get less than 17 miles per gallon and no more than 1,500 can drive vehicles that get more than 17 miles per gallon but less than 22 miles per gallon, according to the bill.

The logic of policy makers behind taxing electric and other fuel-efficient cars is that they aren’t paying the state tax on gasoline (which you pay when you pump) and therefore aren’t contributing to road construction and repair. It’s a national debate as cars become more fuel efficient and elected officials look for ways to fund ailing bridges and roads.

The legislature also granted the authority to the Oregon Department of Transportation to work with other states and Canada that might be trying similar road user fee programs.  States across the county have tinkered with the idea of a fee for miles traveled but Oregon could be the first state to move forward on it. Neighboring Washington state’stransportation committee has been studying the possibility.

Taxing only the high mileage cars hit a snag as auto industry officials rebuffed it asunfair and pointed out that there are not many cars in Oregon that meet the 55 miles per gallon criteria. To date, there are 1,200 cars registered in Oregon that would meet that threshold.

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