Massachusetts highway tax bill still in play

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 12/11/2013

Massachusetts could soon follow in the footsteps of multiple states in experimenting with a per-mile road tax.

The Joint Committee on Transportation met on Tuesday, Dec. 10, to discuss a bill that would require the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to set up and implement a pilot program to tax vehicles per miles traveled.

The Bay State’s program would include at least 1,000 volunteers of passenger and commercial vehicles.

Participants would have onboard vehicle mileage counters added to their vehicles for a two-year period. According to the bill, the program would “test the reliability, ease of use, cost, and public acceptance of technology and methods” for counting and reporting the number of miles traveled by particular vehicles.

Rep. Carl Sciortino, D-Medford, wrote that “the commonwealth is uniquely positioned to become a leader in the advancement of the technology and methods needed to develop and implement alternative ways to raise transportation revenue.”

Supporters say another funding option is needed in the state because the fuel tax cannot keep up with increasing costs to cover wear and tear on roads and bridges.

Critics say the vehicle miles traveled tax, or VMT tax, involves unproven technology and raises privacy concerns.

A similar VMT rule was adopted earlier this year in Oregon. The law implements a vehicle miles traveled fee for motorists. Truckers driving in the state already pay a tax based on weight and distance traveled.

Oregon’s program for motorists will start in 2015 using volunteers. As many as 5,000 motorists will pay by the mile using GPS technology or at the pump via a wireless transponder.

Elsewhere, Nevada transportation officials are moving forward with a study on road-funding options. Specifically, the department will look at a VMT tax.

Gov. Brian Sandoval said he wants the study done in time for the 2015 regular session. The Nevada Legislature meets for regular work only during odd-numbered years.

The alternative taxing method for states is also getting attention in Washington, D.C. U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., filed a bill that would grant federal money to states to conduct VMT pilot programs.

OOIDA opposes changing or replacing the current system of collecting user fees on fuel taxes. Association representatives say it’s unnecessary to create a new bureaucracy to collect fees.

Ryan Bowley, OOIDA’s director of government affairs, said the costs involved to keep the new system up and running would likely result in fewer dollars actually making it to roads and bridges.

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