Is there no end to user fees in this state? The answer is simple: No. Someday, who knows, we may be unwittingly hooked up to complex monitoring devices that will spit out a monthly charge based on the number of breaths we take. Now there's a bill you don't want to be late paying.
The latest stunt by our revenue-starved leaders involves the notion of charging drivers for every mile they creep along deteriorating highways and pot-holed strewn byways. They're actually serious about this -- so serious, in fact, that the Washington State Department of Transportation plans to ask the Legislature in the upcoming session for $3.5 million to study whether this scheme is worth pursuing.
Driving this move by WSDOT to take a serious look-see are grave concerns that fuel-efficient cars are putting a major dent in the transportation kitty. In short, gas taxes are dying up because motorists are guzzling less gas.
Sir, we are tracking you and we know exactly how many miles you've driven
Some might argue that being asked to pay a so-called "road-user charge" is an unfair penalty -- for cutting consumption, no less. But WSDOT maintains that continued reliance on gas taxes -- currently the ninth highest in the U.S. -- to meet much of our transportation needs is not a viable solution for the long haul.
The possibility that electric vehicles could someday comprise a substantial percentage of cars on the road makes it even more imperative, road officials say, to rely far less on a gas tax, of which the state imposes a 37.5 cent sales tax on each gallon purchased.
According to a report prepared by the Washington State Transportation Commission (click here to see it in its entirety), it wouldn't be all that difficult to figure a person's road charge, what with all the fancy gadgetry available these days, such as in-car GPS units, smartphone apps, and sensors that can detect engine run time.
Of course, critics -- and with good reason -- have and will continue to sound the alarm that this smacks of Big Brother, with government tracking our every trip to the grocery store.
Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond pooh-poohs such concerns, saying most of us are already monitored by our phone companies. And besides, she adds, it will take at least five to ten years to implement the road usage charge -- and that, in any case, there are all kinds of ways to ensure people's privacy.
Hammond is acutely aware that trying to wean the public off gas taxes and potentially replace it entirely at some juncture with a pay by the mile plan is one tough sell.
To date, only three states, Texas, Minnesota and Oregon, have openly discussed road usage charges. Oregon went so far as introducing a bill that would charge drivers 0.85 cents per mile through 2015, then accelerating to $1.85 per mile by 2018. That legislation is stalled.
Hammond, meanwhile, said on KIRO Radio's Ross and Burbank show yesterday, "We are going to start engaging with the public and try to understand what people think about the risks, the opportunities, and some of those things."
Enough said. Now we want to know what you think. Let's hear from you.