After nearly seven years of study and a  test pilot program, the Washington Transportation Commission is apparently ready to decide which plans or scenarios it sends to the State Legislature in January for a proposed pay per mile program that would eventually replace the gas tax.

In 2012, the Legislature directed the commission to explore the possibility of replacing the gas tax with this idea. Despite having the highest state gas tax in the U.S. officials say it's effectiveness is rapidly eroding due to more fuel efficient and electric vehicles, as well as driving habits of motorists. A pilot program wrapped up in January of this year after a year of testing.

The commission, according to the Tacoma News  Tribune, will consider versions of the pay per mile, all three ideas include the following:

  • Under all three options, a pay-per-mile tax—which the state calls a road usage charge—would be introduced within five years for plug-in electric vehicles, hybrids, and state government vehicles.
  • Vehicles that get high miles per gallon would be added within five to 10 years. A high-mileage vehicle has not been defined yet.
  • Beyond 10 years, all new vehicles would be added, starting with model years 2030.

The legislature would decide what the per mile charge would be. For the pilot program, 2.4 cents was the standard used. The commission will also recommend that like the gas tax, this money only be used for highways. The commission says the legislature could charge less per mile if it wanted to, or could offer discounts for lower income drivers.

It would be phased in via a 10-15 year program, largely because the state has sold bonds for transportation projects based upon gas tax revenues. Those have to be paid off before the gas tax would go away completely.

Officials believe there will be much debate in the Legislature because they will have to decide if charging drivers this way is the best method to obtain revenue, and whether the complexity of such a system could be sold to voters.

During the phase in, there would be both taxes present, however, owners of gas powered vehicles would receive refunds or credits, so they would not be paying both. Commercial vehicles and trucks would be exempt from the pay per mile system, and out of state drivers would continue to pay the gas tax.

Oregon has already started a voluntary pay per mile system, drivers register with the state to participate. About 600 have joined the program so far.

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