California moves ahead with plan to tax drivers by the mile

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 10/6/2014

Changes could be in store for how the state of California raises revenue for transportation work. Other changes approved by state lawmakers are intended to improve Caltrans operations and benefit military veterans.

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill into law to set up a task force to develop a voluntary program to test a new way to get money from highway users.

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

Advocates say a change is necessary because the excise tax is not a long-term viable funding solution.

Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, described 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.

DeSaulnier has said the pilot program is a reasonable approach to address the impending fiscal cliff for transportation funding.

“We have to look at these kinds of things, as Oregon and Washington have, in anticipation of this cliff we’re about to go off,” DeSaulnier previously told Senate lawmakers during floor discussion.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is on the record as opposing the VMT tax. The Association sent communication to California lawmakers conveying the concerns of professional truckers.

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

Also signed into law by the governor is a bill designed to boost public confidence in the state’s transportation agency.

SB486 requires the California Department of Transportation to set up goals and performance measures. Specifically, Caltrans is required to prepare a strategic plan for modernizing the agency that will include public input.

DeSaulnier said the state needs to regain the public’s trust on how money is spent on transportation projects.

“Reforms created by SB486 will create greater transparency and more opportunities for public input during the transportation planning process,” DeSaulnier stated. “We face historic shortages in transportation funding, and the public deserves to know that Caltrans is spending money on projects in a strategic manner that prioritizes modern transportation needs.”

One more new law is intended to benefit military veterans.

AB935 will soon allow veterans to apply for a California driver’s license or identification card with a designation that identifies them as a veteran.

Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, said the state is home to the nation’s largest veteran population with nearly two million.

“Not only will AB935 honor our state’s veterans, it will also play a critical role in improving access to resources, benefits and services for individuals who have served our country,” he said.

Veterans will be able to apply for the special license or ID starting Veterans Day 2015.

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