MOUNT VERNON — Fuel efficient and alternative fuel vehicles seem to be the wave of the future. These vehicles are not just environmentally friendly but, since they use less gasoline — or none at all — they can offer a huge cost savings to the vehicle owner.
There is a loser in this scenario: the state, which collects a gas tax to be used for road repair and maintenance. With less gas being sold, there are fewer tax dollars going into state coffers.
With gasoline prices near an all-time high, raising the tax rate does not sit well with many states. Other, perhaps even more equitable, money-raising plans have yet to be put in place. One promising plan has been tested on a limited basis in Oregon, and has found favor with those testing the new tax collecting method.
The method is to implement a mileage tax to replace the gas tax. This would use an onboard mileage counter on the car that would communicate with a specially fitted gas pump and transfer the mileage reading to the pump. The pump would calculate the tax and add it to the purchase price. The pilot program met with approval — even enthusiasm — with those participating.
There are still some problems to be addressed before the plan has any chance of full implementation. For one, the technology needs to be tweaked and improved a bit before it can be fully and confidently implemented. Security is one concern, especially from hackers; reliability is another. Oregon’s test program found a few instances where the devices did not properly communicate with the gas pump receivers.
Although it might be a while before Oregon implements this program several other states, including Ohio, are considering such a plan.
According to Scott Varner, deputy director of communications for ODOT, Ohio is keeping tabs on the situation.
“As part of the Ohio 21st Century Transportation Priorities Task Force — a statewide task force that just recently released its findings — this was an idea put forward by this group,” he said. “So what ODOT has been doing, really even prior to that report, is trying to get a better sense on how that program is working in other states, particularly in Oregon. That is about all the further we are — just getting a better understanding of how Oregon accomplished this type of proposal and really understanding both the positive and the potentially negative elements of this.”
Varner said ODOT will be looking at some of the major concerns that need to be addressed.
“It was really a very small program in Oregon and done voluntarily,” he said. “So we are just trying to get a better understanding on how other states are handling it.”
Ric Oxender of Oxender & Associates represents AAA in the Ohio Legislature on legislative matters. Oxender confirms Varner’s assessment of the situation.
“[The Legislature] knows that’s the way to go,” he said. “But they know it’s long term because there are a number of issues like privacy. Vehicles will have to be equipped; you just can’t have people filling out mileage reports. So there has to be some equipment installed.
“I believe Oregon did a small pilot program and they didn’t find a whole lot of problems right away. But it was a very small group. They didn’t see any kind of difference. They didn’t find a huge drop or a big windfall. But both the policy committee and finance commission authorized by the SAFET-LU Act did recommend looking at switching to this in the long term. So that’s kind of where it’s at.”
Former President George W. Bush signed the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users on Aug. 10, 2005. The act authorizes the federal surface transportation programs for highways, highway safety and transit for the five-year period 2005-09.
At this point, switching to a mileage-based tax is far in the future. However, if state revenues from the per gallon gasoline tax continue to fall, Ohio and other states will probably take an even harder look at this kind of a change.