Ore. drivers may face per-mile fee for fuel-thrifty cars

Bend car dealer calls proposal unfair

POSTED: 12:44 PM PST January 30, 2013    UPDATED: 10:38 PM PST January 10, 2013 
BEND, Ore. -

If you drive an electric car, you don't pay any gas tax, of course. But soon, you could pay something else, to help fund roads and maintenance.

When you fill up in Oregon, you pay about 48 cents a gallon in taxes--30 cents go to the state and help pay for road construction and maintenance, the other 18 cents are a federal gas tax.

But ODOT spokesman Peter Murphy said Thursday  people are going to the pump less frequently -- and it's a problem.

Murphy said fuel efficiency is going up, and that means tax revenues from fuel excise taxes are going down

"This is a trend that has been happening, and you can see at some point you're going to get to a path where you run out of money, unless you do something different," he said.

So ODOT is studying a new way to make everyone pay their fair share -- but it's not without controversy.

"It has the potential to minimize our sales," said Smolich Sales Manager Jack Coumas. "It's rather unfair -- you have certain vehicles and the government trying to push for better fuel economy, which counters the idea of by-mile vs. the economy of a vehicle."

Proposed legislation would impose a per-mile tax on cars getting more than 55 miles per gallon. ODOT began a pilot program in December for a road usage fee.

But how will the government track how many miles people drive? That could be the biggest point of controversy.

"What we are trying to do is find a third party who can somehow track the mileage someone travels within the state of Oregon," Murphy said. "We're trying to find a method that doesn't invade privacy."

Options being considered are GPS, other technologies or a flat annal fee.

 Oregon is leading the way with this idea -- we may be the first, but not likely the last.

"It affects the whole country," Murphy said. "If I travel to California, if someone in California travels here, we can't just be Oregon on our own out here. And in fact the federal government is looking at what Oregon is doing, so it can be adopted perhaps across the country."

Murphy also said people with fuel-efficient gas-powered cars won't be taxed both by the mile and at the pump.