Oh boy, I don’t know if this is such a wise idea, but here I go reading about a proposed tax structure. Grace Crunican, who is the Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation, proposed recently that King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties enact a pilot project to try out taxing drivers by the mile, also known as a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax. A pilot project was in place in Oregon four years ago. According to the report about the project released late in 2007, a VMT tax is “viable.”

Apparently in order for the VMT tax to work each car needs to have a GPS transponder that would communicate with gas pumps and automatically add the tax to the cost of the fuel. This raises the question: what’s wrong with a fuel tax? The problem with a fuel tax is that it doesn’t get enough money from all drivers. So the lady driving the ’73 Plymouth Barracuda is paying a lot more to use the road than the guy putzing around in his Honda Insight, or worse, his Tesla Roadster

On the one hand, a gas tax encourages us to use less gas and use more fuel efficient forms of transportation. On the other hand, if too many of us are using fuel efficient forms of transportation, we won’t be able to maintain our roads. What to do?! By the way, in Washington State there is $80 billion in unfunded transportation projects.

My first inclination is to jack up the gas tax dramatically. That way you’re still encouraging people to drive more efficient cars. If that doesn’t work, I see three options: raise taxes somewhere else, charge tolls, or decommission roads. Bryn Davidson argues that we don’t need to build any more roads. Maybe we can get rid of some of the more expensive ones to maintain?

The most fashionable way to raise road taxes these days seems to be through congestion pricing. That can involve either entering a zone (downtown) and having to pay for a day of being able to drive into that zone or paying to be able to use lanes on the highway during rush hour. 

Apparently tolls are coming back to Washington, but so far just to bridges and not to major roads. In general I oppose tolls because I’m not used to them and they seem annoying. I would rather pay for the use of a bridge through taxes than scramble to find five dollars as I approach the toll booth. 

David Dye, who is the deputy secretary of the Washington Department of Transportation objects to the VMT tax, claiming Washingtonians aren’t ready to pay for roads. I find this infuriating as we already pay for roads through the gas tax. I really wish that it were possible to close roads when people vote against raising taxes. If that were possible, the folks who insist they don’t need to pay more taxes to the state could lose the benefits those taxes create. Too bad roads are a god-given right. 

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