Oregon looks at per-mile tax for electric cars

SALEM — State lawmakers are considering charging electric-vehicle owners for every mile they drive to replace the gas tax payments they won't be making.

A House committee took up the legislation Friday.

The bill would charge drivers of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles up to 1.43 cents for each mile they drive beginning with cars from the 2014 model year.

The Oregon Department of Transportation would be responsible for finding a way for vehicles to electronically report the distance they've traveled, and drivers could receive refunds for miles driven outside of Oregon.

"It's a fairness issue," said Sen. Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro, a proponent of the bill. "They're not paying any gas tax. Everyone else is paying, why should they get a free ride?"

Opponents say it's too early to tax electric vehicle use because the state should be doing everything it can to make nonpolluting vehicles attractive to buyers.

It may be unfair, "but the point is we're trying to increase the number of nonpolluting vehicles on the road," said John Christian, chair of the Oregon Electric Vehicle Association. Christian said he agrees electric-vehicle owners should pay road-use fees but he'd prefer the tax doesn't kick in until 25 to 50 percent of vehicles are nonpolluting, Christian said.

Oregon has relied on gas taxes for road maintenance since 1919, when it was the first state to create a fuel levy. The tax is now 30 cents per gallon, projected to pump $1.1 billion into the state highway fund over the next two years to pay for road construction and maintenance.

Oregon officials have been concerned about the potential for dwindling gas-tax revenue since fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles were introduced a decade ago. They experimented with a pilot project that included GPS devices that tracked and reported the number of miles driven inside Oregon. The GPS approach was ruled out amid privacy concerns, but officials say it could still be an option for drivers who prefer it.

Lawmakers in Washington are considering a proposal to charge electric vehicle owners a flat fee of $100 per year. Proponents of Oregon's approach say it's more fair because people who drive more pay more, which is the way gas taxes currently work.

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