I'm not exactly unbiased on the subject of Oregon moving away from using the gasoline tax to pay for roads. We owned an all-electric Nissan Leaf for about six months, and now have a semi-electric Chevy Volt.
Over on Blue Oregon, Kari Chisholm talks about "GPS tax: the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad idea that just won't die."
He perusasively describes why outfitting cars with a GPS device that tracks mileage driven within the state is all of those negative adjectives in his blog post title.
How will Oregon force all vehicles to get a GPS device installed? There are plenty of very old cars on the road. (My parents are still driving a 1980 Volvo, and I owned a 1967 Barracuda just a few years ago.)
ODOT claims they've resolved civil liberties objections because the new GPS devices are privately manufactured. That's nonsense. The data will still be stored somewhere. And unlike your phone, you won't be able to turn it off if you're going somewhere you'd rather not be tracked.
What's the cost? I find it hard to believe that the cost of all these GPS devices - and the enforcement required to ensure that every Oregon vehicle has one - is going to be justified by the revenue that they produce. Show me the money, ODOT.
Also, out of state drivers wouldn't have to pay the tax, whereas a gasoline tax is collected at every pump in Oregon. (This also is a strong argument for a sales tax, but that's a whole other issue.)
I like Kari's proposal for a tax on tires as an alternative way of assuring that those who do the most damage to roads, and drive the most, pay more for using Oregon roads. As a commenter on his post noted, bigger tires are much more expensive than smaller tires. And tires on high-end cars tend to be larger than those on cheaper cars, making a tire tax linked to ability to pay.
This also makes sense to me:
And worst of all? This entire effort is designed to tax energy-efficient vehicles. Check out this absurdity from the O's editorial board:
The tax as a user fee is no longer fair. When it comes to road repair, those who drive thirsty road hogs are now subsidizing those who drive efficient and unconventionally powered cars. This trend needs to reverse...
This trend needs to reverse? Seriously?! Electric vehicles and hybrids should subsidize "thirsty road hogs"? Are you kidding me? No, no, a thousand times no. We need to pay for highway maintenance. Insisting that carbon-spewing gas-guzzlers shoulder a larger portion of the expense is also an excellent way to reduce pollution. We shouldn't do anything that pushes consumers away from fuel-efficient vehicles. (And not just because we want to reduce carbon pollution. But fuel-efficient vehicles are lighter and thus put less wear on the roads, too.)
Anyone who understands what human-caused carbon pollution is doing to our planet knows all about the hidden costs of burning fossil fuels. It's exceedingly simplistic and irrational to only focus on the need to repair and build highways when considering how to tax electric cars.
The entire costs and benefits of driving gasoline-powered versus electricity-powered automobiles need to be taken into account. This is why federal/state tax credits for buying electric cars are justified: these cars provide important societal benefits, in addition to the personal benefits that accrue to owners of them.
(We love our Volt. Only have had it for five days, but we already have found a lot to like and little to dislike with the car.)
Here's Kari Chisholm's entire list of ways to pay for roads, other than Oregon's currently absurdly low gasoline tax.
Raise Oregon's gas tax to match our neighbors. In 2011, we raised it six cents to 30 cents/gallon -- but we're still 5.3 cents behind California and 7.5 cents behind Washington.
Inflation-adjust the gas tax. It should go up every year based on inflation (or more). Otherwise, the purchasing power of those highway maintenance dollars will just erode over time.
Raise car registration fees. I'm sympathetic (a little) to the idea that electric vehicles don't pay much at all for highway maintenance. Right now, all passenger vehicles pay just $43/year for registration (plus $19 if you're in Multnomah County). Bump that $10-25 and inflation-adjust it.
Tax tires. 35 states do; Oregon doesn't (pdf). A tire tax would hit both gas-guzzlers and fuel-efficient cars, and would disproportionately affect those who drive the most miles. (Hey, look! A highway-maintenance fee that is directly tied to highway usage - without a GPS.) Most states are between a buck or two; California charges $1.75/tire. I'd consider doubling or tripling the tire tax for studded tires - which cause the most damage to our roads.