DALLAS — More than 800 Oregon motorists have signed up to participate in the initial month of the first fully operational vehicle-miles-traveled road fee program in the U.S., with a higher-than-expected number of them driving fuel-efficient cars.
Motorists in the program pay 1.5 cents per mile as determined by an on-board GPS device and receive a credit for the Oregon's gasoline tax of 30 cents per gallon. The program was designed to be break-even for vehicles that get 20 miles per gallon, but 368 of the 835 volunteers said they drive vehicles rated at more than 22 miles per gallon, said Michelle Godfrey, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Transportation.
That results in them paying more in road fees than they would in gasoline tax to travel the same distance, she said.
"They get the value of paying their fair share," she said. "It seems that they are willing to pay a little bit more to make sure those roads are there long into the future."
The road user fee is needed because gasoline tax revenues are dropping as vehicles become more fuel efficient, she said.
"We're losing out on the gasoline tax," Godfrey said. "Every state in the union is having that problem and we're the first one to do something about it."
While a number of states have expressed interest in Oregon Department of Transportation's OReGO program, Connecticut lawmakers last week said it is too early for them to consider a shift away from the gasoline tax as the main revenue source for transportation funding.
Connecticut State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, a Democrat, said Aug. 8 that a VMT system like Oregon's should not be included in the highway funding options being put together by a panel to support Gov. Dannel Malloy's proposed $100-billion, 30-year transportation program.
The state's gasoline tax revenue is no longer sufficient but Oregon's new road user fee program is not a proven funding method at this point, he said.
"We know that in order to see our bold vision for a world class transportation system through and to pay for it, other ideas need to be explored," Duff said.
"One of the ideas that recently garnered attention was the notion of a 'mileage tax' that would be charged to residents based on the number of miles they drive in a certain period of time," he said.
"I am opposed to it and know that there is no appetite amongst Senate Democrats to advance this idea should a formal recommendation come from the governor's panel."
State Sen. Toni Boucher, the ranking Republican member of the Connecticut General Assembly's Transportation Committee and a member of the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee, said her constituents are outraged at the idea of a miles-traveled fee.
"A proposal discussed by the governor's transportation finance panel to tax drivers for every mile they drive using GPS technology 24 hours a day, 365 days a year has instigated an incredulous response by the public," she said last week. "This public opposition is right on point."
The road user fee was one of several options discussed by the finance panel, not a formal proposal to the legislature, said Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey, a Democrat.
"Legislative Republicans, sensing yet another opportunity to score political points at the expense of an actual policy discussion, have labeled one of the ideas a 'mileage tax,' attributed it to legislative Democrats, and are now mailing and emailing their constituents in a cynical effort to scare them about an idea that no legislator has even discussed, much less proposed," Sharkey said.
The Oregon program began signing up motorists on July 1, with more than 500 applicants in the first week.
The Oregon VMT program is limited to 5,000 vehicles in the first two years. The legislation that established it stipulates that the Oregon legislature must decide in 2017 whether to expand or modify the program.