State transportation leaders recommend Washington become a pay-by-mile state

OLYMPIA, Wash. - State transportation leaders will be making a controversial recommendation to state lawmakers to make Washington a pay-by-mile state.

The idea is to charge drivers for how far they drive instead of how much gas they consume. The Washington Transportation Commission voted to recommend the new system on Tuesday.

They have been studying pay by mile for seven years, including a recent pilot of 2,000 drivers who tried out the system. The commission says 72% of participants indicated they supported a road usage charge instead of a gas tax.

But ahead of the vote, there were people who passionately and emotionally spoke against a pay-by-mile system.

“You want to tax us until we cannot breathe,” said one man.

One woman who lives in Aberdeen said she drives 230 miles round-trip for work and she said a road usage charge would threaten her family’s livelihood. She also spoke up for many construction workers who commute long ways to get to their job sites.

But supporters say pay-by-mile is better than the gas tax to pay for transportation. With more fuel efficient cars and electric vehicles the commission says they expect gas tax revenue to decrease by 45% by 2035.

Other state departments are also supporting the system including the Department of Natural Resources.

“With less gas sales comes less funding for our roads and transportation infrastructure DNR is invested in this topic because our agency receives portions of the gas tax,” Leah Dobey with DNR said.

Climate activists also came out in support.

“We are excited at what`s being done to ensure long term revenue for a transportation system that`s climate friendly,” Leah Missick with Climate Solutions said.

Missick did recommend using different fees, however, for low income people and charging vehicles on much they weighed. But one Federal Way woman who says she is low income passionately pleaded with the commission to scrap the entire idea.

“This charge is going to add more and more money that I don`t have. It`s hard for me to get because I am also a disabled veteran,” said the woman.

She also said a vote in favor of pay-by-mile would be bad timing with King County and Seattle fighting against the voter-approved $30 car tabs.

The man behind the initiative, Tim Eyman, also showed up to the hearing and gave them a mouthful.

“The arrogance, the superiority and the condescending attitude today’s vote for pay for mile tax illustrates at a time when voters expressed clear revulsion about an idea of higher vehicle tax and fees,” Eyman said.

The recommendation is to do it all very slowly, taking at least 10 years to begin the transition.

Commissioners also say no one will be double taxed, meaning drivers won’t have to pay a gas tax in addition to pay-by-mile if the transition happens.

Even if lawmakers take up the issue during the 2020 legislative session, it is almost certain they will not be able to make any sweeping decisions during a 60 day session especially on such a controversial change.