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A new mileage tax may replace the gas tax in Oregon. Oregon residents will be taxed by the number of miles travelled, as they travel along the state's highways like Highway 30 pictured here. Those not participating will face higher taxes at the pump.  (Source: Lyn Topinka)
A new ambitious high-tech effort to fairly distribute roadwork taxes proposed in Oregon, but can it overcome fears of government tracking?

Nobody likes to pay taxes, but they are reality of modern U.S. government as we know it.  However, if you have to pay taxes, you at least want them to be fair.  That's the mentality driving a rather revolutionary, albeit controversial, new plan in the state of Oregon.

In Oregon, as in other states, people have long complained about using fuel taxes to finance road work.  Such measures place a larger tax burden on those in professions requiring heavier vehicles.  So Oregon's Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) has developed a new plan -- pay by mileage.

Oregon, whose highways recently gained attention via a new solar project, is now looking to legislate the governor's plan.  The new legislation will provide Oregon with "a path to transition away from the gas tax as the central funding source for transportation" via a mileage tax implemented with the help of GPS satellites.

While the exact details are still being ironed out, Gov. Kulongoski's web page gives the basics of the plan.  In it he states, "As Oregonians drive less and demand more fuel-efficient vehicles, it is increasingly important that the state find a new way, other than the gas tax, to finance our transportation system."

He is creating a task force "to partner with auto manufacturers to refine technology that would enable Oregonians to pay for the transportation system based on how many miles they drive."  Key studies were performed in 2006 and 2007 that indicate that such a program would indeed be possible. 

In the 2007 test which lasted 10 months with 300 motorists at two service stations, drivers were taxed 1.2 cents per mile and were refunded the 24 cents a gallon state gas tax.  When the motorists got to the pump, their vehicles connected to government computers informing them of the mileage (calculated via GPS tracking) and issuing tax.  Equipment for the test came from Oregon State University.

While clever, the program faces one enormous thorny obstacle -- concerns over the loss of privacy. 

The governor's online outline states, "The governor is committed to ensuring that rural Oregon is not adversely affected and that privacy concerns are addressed."

Despite assurances from James Whitty, the ODOT official in charge of the project, that the new GPS system would not be used for continuous tracking of citizens' cars, many advocacy groups are outraged and many remain fearful.  The final report on the 2007 test deployment was conscious of this fear, stating, "The concept requires no transmission of vehicle travel locations, either in real time or of travel history.  Accordingly, no travel location points are stored within the vehicle or transmitted elsewhere. Thus there can be no ‘tracking’ of vehicle movements."

Advocates point out that the devices are not developed by Oregon, but rather by industry partners.  The program's policy page states, "ODOT would have no involvement in developing the on-vehicle devices, installing them in vehicles, maintaining them or having any other access to them except, perhaps, in situations involving tampering or similar fee evasion activities."

However, even if privacy concerns can be laid to rest, there will also be a large price tag associated with initially implementing the program, one which may give residents sticker shock.  An initial investment of $20M USD would be needed, according to the governor, just to see if the program was viable.  A full deployment would require GPS be gradually added to gas stations and to all vehicles in the state.

The proposal also calls for a punitive tax against those not adopting the new device -- the gas tax will continue for vehicles not equipped to pay the mileage tax, but it will be increased 2 cents.

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Srsly WTF
By CiaccioJ on 12/31/2008 12:49:56 PM , Rating: 3
This is ridiculous, taxing people based on how many miles they drive, not how big or heavy their car/ truck is. I don't think the writer of this article understands that the people with the heavier cars need to pay more because those are the ones that destroy the road.

What about out of staters? Will they just not have to pay a gas tax? I could imagine that becoming a big deal.

This is just sensationalism. Fear not.

For those concerned with the *tracking* aspect of legislation, your worries are misplaced.

What do you think happens every time you go through an automated toll booth?

Or, even every time you swipe that credit/ debit card.

You've been tracked for years, now it's just in your face.

RE: Srsly WTF
By Ringold on 12/31/2008 5:44:07 PM , Rating: 2
What do you think happens every time you go through an automated toll booth?

If we go through a private toll booth, it's a willing choice between a supplier and a consumer. The private entity has our data, but I trust private companies with my data such as that more than the government. Worst-case scenario, a private toll company uses the data to figure out what roads are in the highest demand and maybe send me junk mail about a store thats along my route or something. Government has historically been more insidious. Sure, government can spy on companies or make them their pawns, but at least there's one level of defense between citizen and state as opposed to none at all. (Didn't some telecoms say no to the wiretapping requests?)

If we are tracked by government mandate, there is no choice involved, no control, no accountability, no transparency. And since when does previous behavior excuse more future behavior?

I don't think you understand or appreciate the libertarian position on privacy, but thats okay. Most people either dont or just don't care. Government knows best..

RE: Srsly WTF
By Xavitar on 12/31/2008 6:50:48 PM , Rating: 2
For those concerned with the *tracking* aspect of legislation, your worries are misplaced.

What do you think happens every time you go through an automated toll booth?

Or, even every time you swipe that credit/ debit card.

You've been tracked for years, now it's just in your face.

It's okay, fatty. You're already 120 lbs. overweight, so go ahead and eat a few more donuts. What can a couple of thousand extra calories hurt, right?

Nice logic, Heart Attack Man.

All the things you listed are elective conveniences. What Oregon is considering doing is mandating an invasion of privacy. There is a huge distinction between a choice made and a choice made for you. There is a huge distinction between willfully giving something away -- in this case, privacy -- and having the government take it from you.

Lots of people sell their homes, but few look forward to getting a notice of seizure by eminent domain. Well, guess what? My privacy is not the eminent domain of the government. It's mine, and they can't f**king have it.

RE: Srsly WTF
By Fritzr on 1/2/2009 1:06:08 AM , Rating: 2
Out of Staters? Read the article again ... completely this time.

There are two options:
1) Register and install a mileage GPS ... you pay per mile
2) Do not use a mileage GPS ... you pay a gallon tax slightly higher than current.
(For obvious reasons Out of Staters use option 2)

So lets say mileage tax is 1.2 cents per mile and gallon tax is 48 cents per mile...

40miles tax==1 gallon tax
You get 25mpg so taxes are 25*1.2 per gallon or 48 cents
30 cents per gallon vs 48 cents per gallon ... you want that GPS so you can pay mileage tax
Arty bought a hybrid and gets 60mpg average so taxes are 60*1.2 per gallon or 48 cents
72 cents per gallon vs 48 cents per gallon ... you can bet that Arty will not bother with the paperwork needed to get that GPS.

Of course if it is required for an Oregon registered car you will start seeing a lot of out of state license plates on high mileage cars. That is not speculation. Washington state's annual registration fees result in a lot of Idaho and Oregon license plates in Washington driveways :P

Washington also has an emission inspection that is required in the city I live in. We have a lot of cars that suddenly moved out of the city and now receive their mail at Post Office boxes in the surrounding county.

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