Want to pay your taxes by the gallon or by the mile?
“As we have more fuel-efficient vehicles on the road, less and less funding to maintain roads, and it just spells disaster, ultimately, for our transportation system,” said Michelle Godfrey with the Oregon Department of Transportation, “So, we have to find an alternative.”
The alternative, Godfrey said, is a pilot program starting next year, where 5,000 volunteers can pay their road repair taxes per mile, rather than per gallon of gas.
“This is what the legislature kind of landed on, after 12 years of research,” she said. “You pay for what you use. So, the number of miles you drive is really the best gauge of the impact that you’re having on the roads and how much you are contributing to deterioration.”
The state conducted a similar, smaller test in 2012 and 2013, where volunteers had options of reporting their mileage on their own, or using plug-in devices that attach to their car’s data ports. Godfrey said the volunteers for the new program would have the same kinds of options.
The amount you pay could change under the new system. The current gas tax is 30 cents per gallon. The mileage tax for the program would be about 1.5 cents per mile.
For example, if you drive 15,000 miles per year, like many people, and your car gets 10 miles per gallon, you would pay $450 in gas taxes each year but only $234 in taxes if you pay per mile.
If your car gets 20 mpg, you would pay $225 in gas taxes, versus $234 for the mileage tax.
If your car gets 30 mpg, you would pay $150 for the gas tax and $234 for the mileage tax.
If you have an electric car, you could pay nothing for the gas tax, but you would have to pay $234 for the mileage tax.
“Some people are going to pay more; some people are going to pay less. It’s really about fairness across the board,” said Godfrey.
Godfrey said the current system is not fair, in part because lower-income people who may only be able to buy used cars with lower gas mileage pay more to repair Oregon’s roads, but people who can afford more expensive cars with better gas mileage may pay very little, even though both do the same amount of damage to the roads.
“Is it fair for this low-income individual who may have an older vehicle to be subsidizing the high mpg vehicle?” asked Godfrey. “If we all paid for the miles we drove, it would be equal across the board.”
Godfrey said some people have asked questions about the plug-in devices that report your mileage to the state.
“The biggest concern is privacy and people saying, ‘Don’t put a black box in my car. I don’t want you tracking my whereabouts,'” she said.
Godfrey said the plug-in devices have GPS capabilities but do not transmit location data to ODOT.
“ODOT will never know where you are,” she added.
She said the GPS allows the device to determine if your car is on a public road in Oregon, which would be taxed.
“So, if you’re driving out-of-state or if you’re driving on a private road, the device knows to turn off and not count those miles, and so you are never charged for them. So, that’s the advantage of having GPS in the unit,” said Godfrey.
Godfrey just finished visiting cities around Oregon to explain the program and listen to feedback. She said the program has to overcome a number of obstacles to be acceptable to the public and possibly replace the current gas tax.
“Oregonians rule. It’s their choice, ultimately,” said Godfrey. “At some point, this has to go out to a vote, and if Oregonians don’t want it, then it won’t happen.”