Hawaii is using a federal grant to fund its test of a road user fee system that could replace the state's gasoline tax.

DALLAS – More than 1 million Hawaiian motorists could receive mock tax bills next year showing how much they would pay if the state replaced its gasoline tax with a vehicle miles traveled road user fee.

The mileage information used to develop the sample bills would be obtained from odometer readings during the annual vehicle safety inspection and registration process, state highway officials said at an Oct. 5 public hearing on the multiyear VMT test. The road fee test will involve hybrid cars as well as conventional vehicles.

The results of Hawaii's road user fee pilot program and recommendations on whether to replace the gasoline tax with a VMT system should be ready to go to the Legislature by 2019, said Ed Sniffen, deputy director of highways at the Hawaii Department of Transportation.

Following the delivery of information-only bills to all vehicle owners in the state, HDOT will seek volunteer motorists to test how the road user fee system should be administered, Sniffen said.

"It makes the most sense to look at the broad base first," he said. "Then we can start drilling down to smaller groups to ensure that we understand how the processes need to be set."

Hawaii motorists pay about 0.8 cents per mile of state gasoline tax, he said, but there's been no determination yet on the rate to be used in figuring the mock bills.

The state has one of the highest gasoline tax rates in the country at 42 cents per gallon. The volume-based state fuel tax itself is only 17 cents but a 17 cent per gallon tax county road tax and other state fees and taxes add 25 cents per gallon.

The national average state gasoline tax is 29.8 cents per gallon, according to the American Petroleum Institute.

Hawaii's gasoline tax accounts for 33% of the revenues available to HDOT, Sniffen said.

"We're not looking at any increases in that 33% share or any decreases [with the sample bill test]," Sniffen said. "We're just trying to get to what it's going to look like if we keep everything flat, the way it is."

The state spends 90% of its transportation funding to maintain its existing road inventory and only 10% on new projects, Sniffen said.

Gasoline tax collections dedicated to the highway fund totaled $86.8 million in fiscal 2015, along with $76 million from vehicle weight taxes, $51.9 million in rental car surcharges, and $49 million in registration fees. HDOT had a capital budget that year of $316 million.

Finding a sustainable alternative to the gas tax could help the state reach its goal of reducing fuel consumption by 70% by 2030, said Hawaii Gov. David Ige.

"Trends toward more fuel-efficient, hybrid and electric cars have a significant impact on transportation funding in Hawaii because of our current reliance on the gas tax as a transportation funding mechanism," Ige said. "The resulting lower consumption reduces the funds available for highways projects. Moving forward, we need to explore new ways to fund our state highway system."

Ige failed in his attempt during the 2016 legislative session to raise the state gas tax to 19 cents per gallon and to increase vehicle registration fees. The changes would have cost the average motorist an additional $55 per year, he said.

Hawaii is funding the VMT test program with a $4 million federal grant it received in August to study alternative highway revenue methods.

It was the largest single grant in the $14.2 million available in fiscal 2016 from the five-year Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act. The alternative revenue study funding will go to $20 million per year in fiscal 2017 through 2020.

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