Hybrid cars don't use much gasoline. Electric cars use none.
As more folks buy these fuel-efficient vehicles, states are seeing a decline in revenue from gasoline taxes. And it is predicted the decline in revenue will become significant in the future as hybrid- and electric-car technology gets better and the vehicles become more affordable.
The state of Oregon is looking at testing a miles-driven road tax as an alternative to the gasoline tax. The pilot program would count on smart phone technology to log the miles traveled in state. Privately manufactured new devices offer three options -- two are GPS based so drivers can avoid charges for driving out-of-state or on non-public roads. A third device simply counts miles.
Oregon officials are making this way more complicated than it needs to be. Oregon would be wise to look north to what Washington state has done.
Washington state imposes a $100 annual fee at the time of registration for hybrid and electric cars.
It's a reasonable tax that helps the state recoup some, but not all, of the lost gasoline taxes. It is estimated that in Washington state a driver pays about $200 a year in gasoline taxes in a vehicle driven 12,000 miles a year.
Clearly $100 is a bargain for the owners of fuel-efficient vehicles. Nevertheless, given that the tax-gap problem is relatively small right now, it's an equitable solution -- for now.
In time, the amount of tax could be adjusted or changes could be made to the gasoline tax. Someday it might be possible to tax electricity when it is used for transportation. In addition, perhaps another solution could be found using technology of the future that we can't yet envision.
The smart phone plan, however, is a clunker. Not everybody has a smart phone, which is certain to cause some to be unfairly taxed more than others.
We also don't like the idea of state government linking with smart phone and/or GPS systems to track travel. While there is no malicious intent here, it's still kind of creepy. It just has too much of that Big Brother feel.
Oregon will waste a lot of money, time and energy trying to fine-tune a mile-driven road tax. It should dump the idea in favor of a $100 a year fee.