DALLAS — Oregon next year will be the first state to begin the shift to a mileage-based fee for transportation funding and it's keeping to tradition, having been the first state in the union to levy a gasoline tax almost 100 years ago.
Beginning July 1, up to 5,000 motorists can sign up to participate in Oregon's voluntary program in which they will pay the state 1.5 cents per mile traveled. Enrollees will receive either rebates for some of the gasoline tax they paid at the pump or a bill to bring their payments in line with the program's mandated cost.
The mileage will be reported by electronic devices or with odometer readings, and most of the billing will be handled by third-party contractors. The 1.5 cent per mile charge is equivalent to the state gasoline tax of 30 cents for a car averaging 20 miles per gallon. Motorists driving a gas guzzler would receive a rebate if the gasoline tax they paid totals more than 1.5 cents per mile. Cars with higher fuel efficiency will burn less gas, but those motorists will receive a bill to bring their tab up to the 1.5 cent per mile mark.
The initial effort is a limited but fully operational program outlined in a bill adopted by the Oregon Legislative Assembly in 2013, said Michelle Godfrey, public information officer for Oregon Department of Transportation's Office of Innovative Partnerships.
"It's not a pilot program because we've already had two of those, and it's not a fully mandated program," she said. "It's a test phase that is somewhere in between."
The legislation passed in 2013, Oregon Senate bill 10, that sets up the per-mile fee program stipulates than no more than 1,500 of the first 5,000 vehicles enrolled must have a fuel efficiency of less than 17 miles per gallon, and another 1,500 must get 22 mpg or less.
The road charge is an effort to obtain revenue from vehicles with high fuel efficiency and electric cars that now pay little or no gasoline tax, Godfrey said.
"Right now we're in the process of seeing what we can do to recruit motorists with vehicles that get better than 22 mpg, because they are not likely to get a rebate," she said. "We may not start off with 5,000 enrolled, and probably won't. More likely, we will be phasing people in over a couple of months or more."
The costs of collecting the mileage-charge revenue will be significantly higher than is the case with the current gasoline tax, Godfrey said, and will remain so until the program is mandated for most vehicles.
"The system is not really viable until we get one million participants," she said.
There are three million licensed drivers in Oregon, with 3.2 million cars registered in the state.
Revenue from the road user charge is estimated by the Oregon DOT at about $130 per year for each participant, or about $130 million a year when the program includes one million vehicles. The average Oregon motorist current pays $165 a year in state gasoline taxes, ODOT said, and $100 a year in the federal tax of 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline.
Privacy concerns by lawmakers and others were resolved by including an odometer-based reporting system among the program's options, Godfrey said, and allowing billing agencies to keep mileage data for only 30 days after bills are sent out and all disputes resolved.
"The American Civil Liberties Union signed off on it," she said. "That was a big hurdle, but they were satisfied with the privacy protections in the law."
Oregon lawmakers levied the first state gasoline tax in 1919 of 5 cents per gallon. Within 10 years, all the other 47 states and the District of Columbia had a gasoline tax. The federal tax of one cent per gallon was first authorized in 1932 as a temporary revenue measure. Congress raised the tax to three cents a gallon from two cents in 1956, and dedicated the revenue to the new Highway Trust Fund to build the 48,000-mile system of interstate highways.
From 2011 through 2013, Oregon Department of Transportation's $4 billion of revenues included $1.1 billion from the state gasoline tax, $998 million of federal transportation grants, and $640 million of bond proceeds. Oregon cities and counties received $903 million from the state gasoline tax over the period.