Legislator plans bill to base tax on mileage

A proposal to tax Colorado drivers for the number of miles they drive is getting back on track in the Colorado Legislature.

State Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, plans to introduce a late bill in the session that would test a mileage-based system to replace the current 22-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax, which is levied on all motorists, no matter where they live.

A similar proposal had been included in the highway funding bill signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter, but the vehicle-miles-traveled provision was pulled.

It’s a “rotten idea,” said state Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, who led the effort to kill the provision. “First, we raise the public’s car fees. Then, we give (the Colorado Department of Transportation) the power to put tolls on pavement we’ve already paid for. Now, we’re going to tax Coloradans based on the number of times their tires turn?”

Club 20, the Western Slope lobbying and promotional group, disagrees, at least as far as testing the idea.

A major plank of opposition was that taxing motorists on the basis of miles traveled would strike disproportionately hard in rural areas, where people have to drive farther, Club 20 Executive Director Reeves Brown said.

Transponders that could be installed in vehicles could be programmed to make it possible for rural-area motorists to be charged proportionately less, Brown said. The transponders would send out signals that would be picked up at gas pumps that would determine the rate at which individual vehicles would be taxed at the pump.

Such a system “would provide almost infinite opportunities to customize a system of carrots and sticks” that would reward urban drivers for avoiding congestion with lower gas taxes and penalize them for contributing to congestion, Brown said.

The current gas tax already hits hardest on rural drivers, and the proposed system could reduce the burden on them, Brown said.

Out-of-state drivers, whose vehicles would have no transponders, also could be charged more, reducing the burden on Colorado drivers, Brown said.

As to whether the state could know via transponders where anyone was at any given time, cell-phone users already give up far more information than would a transponder on a vehicle, Brown said.

“Anybody with a cell phone on their person forfeits the right to complain” about the potential of lost privacy, Brown said.

Club 20’s interest in tracking vehicle-miles traveled, as well as basing gasoline tax rates on where and when those miles are logged, goes only as far as supporting some experimenting.

Penry said the state needs alternatives to the gasoline tax, “but this is an idea that’s so bad on its face that it shouldn’t even be studied.”


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