The autumnal winds are beginning to show and before we know it the Legislature will be back to work.
One particularly nefarious item we should all make a point to oppose is the recently minted “Road Usage Charge Assessment” or RUC.
In short, an effort is underway to replace the per gallon gas tax that is collected on each gallon of gas sold in the state of Washington and implement a new method of tracking and then bill us for each mile we drive.
The motive is made clear: More funding is needed to build and maintain our bridges and roads due to improvements in fuel efficiency leading to lower consumption levels.
If more of our money is required, and required it will be, why not raise the current state tax rate of 49.4 cents per gallon, the third-highest in the nation, and gavel out?
That would spoil all of Olympia’s reindeer games.
While we are accustomed to the annual bellowing for more tax revenue, the malignant aspects of this proposal surface readily.
The costs associated with the elements required for implementation, execution, maintenance and compliance would be enormous — all, unnecessary added costs to the current method of revenue collection. Plus, there would be the added benefit to the dear subjects of the state of Washington to allow for a plug-in device with GPS capability that would benignly track your every movement.
Imagine this scenario if you dare: The existing per-gallon gas tax is not eliminated, as the desire to capture gas taxes from out-of-state drivers remains. This necessitates a credit be issued to you, likely in an account, based on fuel purchased by the vehicle owner.
How much you should be credited, based on what formula, is a mystery.
In the meantime, as a loyal resident, you will be paying by the mile and by the gallon. This has to be tracked and administered for the nearly 3 million registered passenger vehicles in the state.
But wait, there’s more: If you drive a Prius, you pay more than your neighbor, rumbling around town in the Ford 350. A glance at the fact sheet on the proposal (waroadusagecharge.org) portrays this new rule as a win for fuel-efficient vehicle owners from an overall cost standpoint when compared to less efficient cars or trucks. This is sleight of hand.
If you isolate the gas tax to be applied per mile from the cost of fuel, the unavoidable truth is the Prius owner would be disadvantaged and pay a higher percentage of the total tax, when compared to the current per-gallon tax.
The state attempts to distort reality by adding the cost of fuel to the equation and claiming overall costs would be less for the owners of fuel-efficient vehicles.
Let’s not lose sight of a key metric, the unquenchable desire in Olympia for more tax revenue. Before we accept higher taxes, perhaps we should be asking why higher taxes are necessary. We all would be paying more, but with a layer of bureaucratic red tape and costs that undoubtedly will be higher than anticipated.
According to the state’s website, the reason for the change is to “ensure that everyone pays their fair share.” The position of the proponents is predictable; our intentions are good, therefore, this is sound policy.
This is an insult: Good intentions coupled with zealous error, leads to bad policy with negative consequences for all.
Perhaps an appropriate analogy is of the college professor, reflecting on the essay turned in during finals, who writes to the student, “Your answer isn’t right, it isn’t even wrong.”
Not only is this solution from Olympia not right, it isn’t worthy of being labeled wrong.
Washington State Transportation Commission Executive Director Reema Griffith was quoted saying the proposal is feasible but is a question of public acceptance. We shouldn’t hesitate in proclaiming to the denizens of the Capitol, this is one proposal we refuse to accept.
Jeff Jones is business manager at The Wenatchee World. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.