Beyond the Gas Tax

It's not a well-known bit of trivia, but Oregon was the first state to tax gasoline - way back in 1919. But with added fuel efficiency (and the coming advent of electric, biodiesel, and possibly hydrogen cars), our state government is looking for ways to tax based on mileage - not gasoline consumption.

Here's the current plan, according to

Testing will start in September when the state transportation department plans to equip 20 privately owned cars with electronic odometers to record their mileage at gas stations. When drivers fill up, specially equipped gas pumps will read the mileage and charge 1.2 cents for every mile driven instead of the state's tax of 24 cents per gallon of gas.

The cars also will have Global Positioning Systems (GPS) so drivers will not be charged for driving outside state borders -- the tax is only meant to be applied for use of Oregon roads. Tracking cars' locations also could allow extra fees for traveling in congested traffic areas or during rush hours. Drivers also could be charged less if their car is more fuel-efficient...

What do you think? Will this hurt incentives for environmental conservation? Will the GPS monitoring system be an infringement on civil liberties? Or is this just the latest high-tech wrinkle required to keep up with changing times?

Read the rest at Oregon tests novel mileage tax


  • Gregor (unverified)

    Taxing vehicles for their use of the roads based on how much they use the road makes perfect sense. What I don't want to see, however, are exceptions or discounts for anyone. Trucks weight more, but they drive more. And they cannot use much of the roads we have. SUVs are penalized at the pump, we should ignore our inclinations to dig deeper on them. The hybrids are rewarded for not spending as much time at the pump.

    Some thoughts to ponder. Will we now need toll booths at the borders for those coming from out of State? Is this a screw our own program and give every guest a free ride? I don't think that's fair.

    In the age of computers, there are a lot of options, but I would prefer the program be as simple and direct as possible without users being given loopholes to drive through. I don't believe in corporations getting special privileges. Their privilege is being allowed to do business with our people and in our community.

    If business can't pay the fees and make a profit, they can go elsewhere or renovate their programs. It's been shown time and again whatever the hurdles entrepreneurs will find a way to make a buck. If they can destroy the hurdles they will, but when they can't they adapt and succeed anyway.

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    If it were about highway maintenance, they should be charging by weight/mile. If we're trying to minimize the use of fossil fuels, they should continue to charge by the gallon.

    It seems that neither of the above is the goal. So now it's just about how much revenue they can generate and the whole targeting thing becomes moot.

    Whatever can be done to bring in additional revenue to the state without unduly burdening firms like PGE by forcing them to pay taxes will be Good for the Economy and Good for our State.

    I heart Oregon :) ;<) and all them other emoticons

  • Mike Austin (unverified)

    Call me paranoid, but I'd rather not give the State a means of tracking my every move in my car. Why not include the environmental costs of owning cars and trucks in the registration fees? DMV records the odometer readings when your car is DEQ certified. Why not combine the miles driven with the energy-efficiency of the vehicle to calculate the tax and factor that into the DEQ charge? If you drive 10,000 miles the $.012/mile adds $120 to your registration fee per year.

    Installing special hardware in hundreds of thousands (millions?) of vehicles and at thousands of pumps to record mileage seems like an incredible expense, to say nothing of the sofware and hardware necessary to track all this information.

  • Gregor (unverified)

    Rural areas do not have to have their vehicles pass DEQ standards, but I do prefer that "they" not know where I am driving AND the costs would be extreme to implement this. Who's boondoggle is this? Diebold?

    PS - Can you imagine what Tom Delay would be doing if he could track vehicles?

  • iggi (unverified)

    that would mean everytime i pull into Fantasy Video, the man would know what i was up to...can you imagine how the police/Fed would use those records? why were you stopped at a hardware store at 2:55 and then at the park at 3:37? that seems highly suspicious sir -- we're charging you with something.

    yeah, i'm paranoid.

  • Becky (unverified)

    Kari -

    What about those of us who travel out of state fairly often? Personally, I'd rather see an increase in the gas tax - much to my surprise I've found that increased gas prices aren't killing me (they do hurt, though). Though mpg differ between vehicles, it is roughly related to miles driven on Oregon roads. A 5 cent per gallon increase in the gas tax would probably cost me an additional $2 a week (I have an hour-long commute). I think I could afford that.

  • SteveL (unverified)

    This is the lamest and most wasteful idea the state could find. Not all miles are equal, and should not be assessed equally when it would cost nothing more to do it right. Secondly, the cost to implement this proposal is absurd.


    Taxing vehicles for their use of the roads based on how much they use the road makes perfect sense. What I don't want to see, however, are exceptions or discounts for anyone.

    If this was about paying for what we use, than why should all miles treated equally? It doesn't make perfect sense. Weight/mile makes far more sense. Even better, a surcharge for the use of studded tires makes even more sense. I don't know about you, but I still hear plenty of suburbans driving around my area with studded tires on.

    If you read the proposal carefully, this would replace gas taxes rather than supplement them. This is a very important point as it provides a larger grey-zone by which enforcement can be evaded. The proposal depends on technology implanted in the vehicle which is read every time you stop at the pump. Any such technology is subject to tampering and any system dependant on these sort of centralized tracking systems is subject to secondary tampering (see also the topic of electronic vote tampering).

    The cost of enforcement and infrastructure is of course a corporate gift -- the comment about Diebold above is dead-on. Look to the carpet baggers who will be making millions off this expensive and difficult to validate system.

    Further, you mention out-of-staters. The way this proposal is written, out-of-state vehicles are exempt from the requirement of carrying the milage measurement device. (yes, you can find it and read it online. I did.) They will, however, be subject to the existing gas tax at the pump.

    So returning one more time to the issue of fairness: since new SUVs would carry the chip, they would not pay gas tax. Similarly, your new Vespa scooter which gets 90mpg would pay the same road use fees per mile as my Escalade. sarcasm Yup, that sounds like a fair tax assessment to me.

    FWIW - Many commercial truckers currently fill up at the CA/WA borders, and avoid our gas tax that way. The WA legislature is currently sitting on a huge gas tax increase which would serve to reverse that, and encourage commercial truckers to gas up in OR instead of in WA.

    Finally, I would emphesise that this proposal imposes an unreasonable invasion of privacy by collecting data which could possibly constitute an illegal search and seizure as it depends on tracking our course of travel within the state's geographical boundaries over time through GPS positioning. History has proven that our government cannot be trusted to not spy on citizens, why should we provide yet another means of doing so?

    If you are concerned about these privacy issues, you might also turn off your cell phone while driving and disable your "On Star" service with a large hammer. Google for more info on these topics related to GPS tracking vs. privacy.

    I would say in summary: This milage tax is a giant boondoggle, and reflects a corrupt sense of fairness that is pervasive in Salem. We need to address the source of this mindset, not just fight the individual proposals.

  • benschon (unverified)

    This is a colossally bad idea. Oregon already has a tax on road use: it's called a gas tax. The existing gas tax is cheap to administer, requires virtually no infrastructure, is generally perceived as fair, and is progressive. By progressive, I mean that statistically, wealthy households have more cars and drive them more than poor people. (If you don't believe me, look it up.)

    The gas tax also provides an incentive for people to clean the air and reduce road wear. Honda Civics buy less gas, pollute less, and damage roads less. Hummers pay the most taxes, but they are also doing the most damage. Charging everyone the same per mile road use fee would flatten out the differences between the 90 mpg Vespa and the 10 mpg Ford Excretion. How dumb is that?

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    Terrible idea:

    1. Requires a costly infrastructure.
    2. Gives government data they have no business collecting.
    3. Doesn't tax out-of-state vehicles on Oregon roads.
    4. Puts the charges even further removed from the cost of the services. Weight/mile makes the most direct connection between the charge and the cost of roads. Per gallon is a pretty reasonable approximation of weight/mile.
    5. Does not promote conservation/cleaner air.

    If the problem is conservation lowering revenue, just raise the darn gas tax. Truckers need a permit to haul goods through the state, levy a surcharge if they can't prove they've bought some minimum amount of gas in the state based on the miles they travel here. (I just made that one up, probably there are other ways to deal with the problem that truckers have the storage capacity to avoid paying gas taxes in a given state.)

  • (Show?)

    Isn't it interesting that the self-proclaimed libertarians at the Cascade Policy Institute support this government involvement with personal privacy?

    And why would phasing-in an intrusion on privacy over 20 years make it any more popular? Oh yeah, I get it, its like the frog in the water, slowly turn up the heat.....

  • jim karlock (unverified)

    For a first try they could spending gas tax money ONLY on roads that are subject to use by gas powerewd vehicles.


    No more "street improvments" that muck up traffic like they have planned for Sandy Blve. No more bus stops in the middle of the travel lane (planned for Sandy, Lombard) See them on Woodstock, 33rd.

    No more reducing the number of travel lanes.

    No more narrowing down streets (Wielder near MLK)

    No more goiving 18%(?) of gas tax money to mass transit (ie: busses that stop in the travel lans)

    Last time I looked over a list of road projects, almost none of them were to improve travel by truck or car.

    Thanks JK

  • Svejk (unverified)

    JK... buddy, for the sake of your blood pressure, try to smile at all the silly people who don't share all your opinions. Think about how much less stressful it is not to have 200-something extra cars on the road over the course of your driving day. Pity the poor bus riders who aren't kings of the open road, like you.

    Mmmmmm! How nice it is to drive on roads paid for by my bike-riding tax dollars. That's right! You're getting something for nothing! Sweet!

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    I second Doretta's post.

  • panchopdx (unverified)

    Taxing by weight-mile is the fairest method of paying for road maintenance and construction. I too am very leary of any method whereby the government would require drivers to have a tracking device.

    However, maybe this could work as an opt-in program with privacy safeguards. Suppose we allow people to opt-in to install the device and purchase fuel sans tax. Then bill them for miles driven on Oregon roads, but exclude miles outside of Oregon. For people commuting back and for to Washington it would mean that Oregon fuel companies would get the sale (removing the gas tax will more than make up for the extra cost of paying someone else to pump it).

    The tracking of subscriber miles and billing for weight-mile taxes could be contracted out to a private company (licensed by the state) that guaranteed the privacy of subscribers comings-and-goings unless compelled by a warrant.

    I don't know if the economics of such proposal is at all viable, but if the program is opt-in, and private investment bears the risk of development, then at least it doesn't have the unrealistic-expectation-government-boondoggle downside associated with so many pie-in-the-sky gov't proposals.

  • Jay (unverified)

    Hey panchopdx, sounds like from what you're saying with your opt-in GPS approach, if you did all those things extactly right, you'd have something almost as good as what we already have- a GAS TAX. I've never wanted to pay a tax so much in my life, what's going on here?

    BTW, The weight-miles metric is a good one and is approximated fairly closely by the gas tax. Heavy vehicles use more gas, and do more damage to the road. Light weight vehicles like the tiny percentage of hybrids out there, use less gas and do little damage to the road.

    I'm with the guy that suggested finding where this initiative REALLY comes from.

  • Liberty Fan (unverified)

    A few thoughts from a bike rider ...

    So, if I gas up my 40 gal. tank SUV and drive 1 mi. home, siphon the gas to fill up my motorcycle for a month and then drive 1 mi. back to the gas station to full up my SUV, do I only pay tax for 2 mi. of travel?

    What about filling gas cans for my dirtbikes and lawnmower? Do I pay tax on that? If I don't have a GPS/computer for the super-smart gas pump to hook up with, do I not get any gas?

    If I ride a $1500 motorcycle, do I have to add a $700 GPS/computer to the price of it so I can get some gas for it?

    This has more holes than a brick of swiss cheese ...

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