Proposed mileage tax targets ruralites
Last updated 3/6/2023 at 5pm
The Vehicle Miles Travelled tax, or VMT, is once again raising its ugly head in Olympia in the form of House Bill 1832. It has been rebranded the "Road Usage Charge" (RUC), a more benign term, one that supporters hope will breeze by an unsuspecting public keen to reject any bill with the word "tax" in it.
But it is a tax; a new tax on the miles you and I travel. And, while the bill talks about it being voluntary for now, the general authority granted to state agencies to create the tax is not limited to just a voluntary program.
In other words, this program starts with "you can if you want," but could end up being "you must if you want to drive."
For those of us who live in rural areas, this will undoubtedly impact us much more than the urbanites who espouse the glories of living in their "15-minute cities," while paving over the very trees and nature they clamor to save.
Rural residents often travel long distances to access necessities like education, health care, employment, and groceries. Unlike our urban counterparts, there is rarely a public transportation option for us.
Another concern I have is about privacy.
The information needed to tax by the mile is a significant increase in data collection. Who will have access to this data? What assurances will the public receive that this massive amount of data collection won't turn into a "big brother is watching us" scenario? How will it be protected? The state has a history of being hacked and losing private identifying information.
In addition, while the VMT claims to have a climate change component, the mechanism itself ignores the increased pollutants that come with long idle periods and stop-and-go traffic. The congestion on urban highways means it can often take the same amount of fuel for an urbanite to travel 10 miles that it takes a rural resident to drive 30. Yet the rural resident would be hit with a more punitive fee while doing much less damage to the environment.
If the sponsors of this new VMT proposal levied it only at hybrids and electric vehicles as an effort to get them to "pay their fair share," I might be inclined to lend my support. But instead of targeting these folks who pay less to use our state's transportation infrastructure, the bill actually favors them by waiving certain fees and artificially capping the amount they would have to pay.
What's particularly galling about this latest proposal is that the money would go into a new account that is not protected by the 18th Amendment to our state constitution. Why is this important?
The 18th Amendment says that all motor vehicle and license fees, and all excise taxes on motor vehicle fuel, is to be used strictly for highway purposes. If the new VMT is designed to replace the gas tax, it should be treated the same way. If not, these funds could be used for whatever the majority party in the state Legislature wants.
Finally, does the public trust the state Department of Transportation to get the most of their hard-earned tax dollars?
Over the last few years, efforts have been made to include climate change, homelessness, equity, and inclusion into our state's transportation goals. While this fits the woke agenda of westside politics, it does little to decrease commute times, fix potholes, repair our bridges, or fulfill generations-old construction promises like the North-South Freeway.
Rather than looking at why it costs more per mile for transportation construction in Washington state than any of our bordering states, the Democrat fallback is to immediately go for taxpayer wallets. This is disingenuous and doesn't fix the problem.
I encourage concerned citizens to visit http://www.leg.wa.gov and find HB 1832 under the bill section. You can click on the "Comment on this bill" icon to leave comments for the chair and members of the House Transportation Committee. Let them know how a VMT would impact you.
Lawmakers need to go back to the drawing board and find solutions that work for ALL Washingtonians, not just those driving $100k Teslas on the westside of the state.
- Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber, R-Republic, represents the 7th Legislative District and is the Floor Leader for the Washington State House Republican Caucus.