California to test charging drivers by the mile?

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 5/13/2014

An effort underway at the California statehouse could change how the state generates revenue for transportation work.

The Senate Appropriations Committee met on Monday, May 12, to briefly consider a bill that would set up a voluntary program to test a new way to get money from highway users.

Specifically, SB1077 would establish a pilot program in the state to assess the feasibility of taxing truckers and other drivers based on vehicle miles traveled in the state. The VMT would replace the state’s fuel tax as people are driving vehicles that get better mileage.

Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, wrote in the bill analysis that the excise tax is unsustainable. He describes his bill as “a critical first step toward California considering a mileage-based fee” as an alternative to the excise tax on fuels.

Oregon and Washington are testing similar programs.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is on the record as opposing DeSaulnier’s bill. The Association sent communication to California state senators conveying the concerns of professional truckers.

OOIDA Director of State Legislative Affairs Mike Matousek told lawmakers the Association supports investments into transportation infrastructure.

“However, if additional revenue is needed, increasing the fuel tax is the most equitable and efficient option, so long as the generated revenue is used for its intended purpose,” he said. “The method for collecting fuel taxes works. It’s simple, there are no privacy concerns, and it doesn’t require the installation of new technologies.”

Matousek said he pointed out to lawmakers that the Association recognizes hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles are more efficient, which results in less fuel consumption and less fuel tax revenue for the state.

“If the issue requires attention, perhaps it should be addressed by a vehicle- or fuel-specific fee rather than imposing another tax on truckers and the vast majority of motorists that use a system that works.”

At Monday’s hearing, an official with the state Department of Finance testified that the agency is opposed to the bill because it is “unnecessary.”

Committee members were told the California State Transportation Agency already has authority to implement any information-gathering pilot program to explore alternative funding methods.

The committee elected to put the bill on “suspense file.” The designation puts bills with a fiscal cost in excess of $150,000 on hold until after the governor releases his May revisions to the state budget.

The state estimates that SB1077 would cost the state more than $1 million annually to administer.

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