By Michael Sheldrick, Senior Editor
Because Oregon was the first state to adopt a gasoline tax — in 1919 — it’s only fitting that it is the first state to adopt a road pricing project. At this point it is only a pilot program for light vehicles, and it will begin in July with 5,000 volunteers.
Initially, the program is designed to be revenue-neutral. Drivers who chose the road pricing option will pay 1.5 cents per mile driven. They will receive a rebate on gasoline taxes if they are less than the mileage. One of the reasons for adoption of the program —OReGO — was that hybrids and EVs were not paying for the roads that are financed by the gasoline tax — along with federal matching funds, also provided by those taxes.
That could become a bigger problem in the future, but the problem is immediate. With anti-tax fever — any tax — raging among Tea Partiers and fellow travelers, Congress has not enacted new gasoline taxes since 1993. That puts pressure on states to foot more of the bill for roads, and unless Congress acts, the highway trust fund will be depleted late this summer. Oregon estimates that its shortfall will be about 500 million dollars per year.
This intransigence has occurred even though a broad coalition of business, labor groups and municipal entities has urged Congress to raise taxes. They include NAFA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO, a large number of construction and trucking industry organizations and companies, cyclists, professional groups, numerous associations of small and medium businesses, state and local governments, and transit agencies.
Not everyone is onboard with VMT — vehicle miles traveled. Light users of roads are said by some to reap proportionally greater benefits. To some degree, a mileage tax will reduce travel, possibly leading to a shortfall in revenues and a viscous cycle of increased VMTs. Nevertheless, ten other states are said to be in various stages of considering VMT regulations.
Supporters of an increased gas tax, from its current 18 cents per gallon to as much as 33 cents, are hopeful because in the face of lower gasoline prices, even some of the most recalcitrant Republicans have softened their opposition to an increase when the Highway Bill is up for renewal later this year.