Rep. Michelle Caldier lambasted the WSDOT proposed road usage fee (KP News, Feb. 2020). Unfortunately, her editorial is misleading, and is a good example of bad governance. Rep. Jesse Young chose to double down on Caldier's misinformation in his latest legislative update with blatant pandering.
Fuel taxes pay part of the costs of roads with numerous other taxes and fees. Property owners in Pierce County pay 0.1409 percent or $140.90 per $100,000 of assessed value for county roads. When Caldier complains the fuel tax is too high in Washington compared to other states she ignores these other fees and taxes. Many states rely on tolls, which add much more cost than higher fuel taxes. Pay a nickel a gallon more or $5 to cross a bridge.
Caldier misrepresents the usage fee as an addition to the fuel tax. The proposal doesn’t add the fuel tax to the usage fee; rather, fuel taxes paid would be applied toward the usage fee.
As to privacy, it’s possible to track mileage without tracking location. Traffic and toll cameras already record every car that passes by, which is more intrusive than any of the proposed tracking methods. Caldier and Young should be trying to figure out how to make this work rather than pushing misinformation and ill-conceived bills or constitutional amendments.
Caldier’s most harmful falsehood is “this tax is disproportionately unfair to rural citizens.” Rural roads are and will be subsidized by urban centers. It is less expensive per vehicle mile travelled to build and maintain heavily used roads than infrequently used rural roads. An urban arterial may serve 15,000 cars per lane per day while a rural road won’t see 15,000 cars in a year, but the cost to build and maintain it is more than 1/365th. Since it will be directly tied to the usage it will be no more burdensome to the rural driver than the fuel tax, and less for rural users fueling mowers, tractors or other off-road equipment.
With electric and alternative fueled vehicles not paying fuel taxes, there must be an equitable fee. A truck powered with liquid natural gas doesn’t pay any fuel taxes. In a few years there will be many trucks and more electric cars paying no fuel taxes. The revenue from fuel taxes will only decline, forcing the change to the usage fee. We need to plan for it now before it becomes an emergency. Edward Robison, P.E., S.E., Wauna