- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

A planned program in Oregon would tax drivers by the number of miles they travel instead of by the amount of gasoline they use to compensate for an expected loss of revenue caused by increasing use of more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Officials in California and Washington also are considering imposing a mileage tax as a way to drum up more money. Maryland and Virginia legislators, however, said they would oppose such a program.

The mileage fee, which would be computed whenever a person pumps a tank of gasoline at a service station, would replace the state’s fuel tax and compensate for a projected loss of revenue resulting from increased use of hybrid and other fuel-efficient vehicles, Oregon officials say.

“Our concept is why don’t we separate fuel consumption from road revenue and from the funding of roads, and then connect road use with funding of the roads,” said James Whitty, manager of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Office of Innovative Partnerships and Alternative Funding.

A yearlong pilot program will begin later this year or early next year, Mr. Whitty said.

Vehicles would be fitted with a Global Positioning System, or GPS, that can tell when a car is being driven in state and out of state, Mr. Whitty said.

When a person fills his gas tank, a device on the gas pump would read the in-state mileage recorded by the car’s receiver and send the information to the service station’s billing system, eliminating the fuel tax and tacking on the mileage fee.

Some hybrid vehicles can get 50 miles per gallon, while cars get on average about 25 miles per gallon and sport utility vehicles average about 15 miles per gallon.

Registration of hybrid vehicles in Northern Virginia jumped 44 percent from October to last month, said John Townsend, manager of public and government relations for AAA Mid-Atlantic auto club.

In the association’s Transportation Poll 2005, 53 percent of people said they strongly favored increasing incentives for driving hybrid vehicles, such as tax breaks and being allowed to drive in high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes.

Virginia Sen. Marty E. Williams, Newport News Republican and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said a program charging a mileage fee would be instituted in the state “over my dead body.”

“If you’re trying to clean up the environment, there can’t be a worse incentive,” Mr. Williams said.

Vehicles that cause more wear and tear on roads — such as SUVs — could be charged a rate higher than smaller vehicles, Mr. Whitty said.

Virginia’s gas tax, which has remained the same since 1986, is 17.5 cents per gallon. The revenue received from the fuel tax has lost about 40 percent of its buying power because of inflation, said Tamara Neale, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Maryland’s motor fuel revenue has remained “flat or increased,” said Jack Cahalan, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation.

Maryland Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., Anne Arundel Democrat and chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation public safety, transportation and environment subcommittee, said he would not expect the General Assembly to support a mileage fee.

Civil libertarians say the use of GPS technology in vehicles is a privacy violation because of the potential to track a person’s whereabouts.

Such concerns are based on inaccurate information because the technology would be used only to record whether a driver is traveling within a certain zone — in state or out of state — not the exact location, Mr. Whitty said.

Organizations such as the San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse maintain the technology could be used for recording more than mileage.

“Today maybe they’re tracking whether you’re in the state or not, [but] tomorrow who knows what they’ll track,” said Beth Givens, director of the organization.

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