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Kulongoski Proposes Taxing Oregonians by the Mile

Oregon’s Governor, Ted Kulongoski, seems to be taking a page from the Microsoft playbook with his new proposal to replace the tax on gasoline with a mileage tax (volunteers in a trial program were charged $0.012/mile). The new program, which is going to cost $20,000,000 just to figure out whether or not it’s economically feasable, will use GPS systems to track how far your car has traveled. The reason for the proposal?

As Oregonians drive less and demand more fuel-efficient vehicles, it is increasingly important that the state find a new way, other than the gas tax, to finance our transportation system.

The governor also promises that even though GPS units will be uniquely identifying and tracking the location of every car on the road, “privacy will be respected”. I think we all know how long it’ll take for police bureaus to find an excuse to get access to that database.

Unlike the relatively simple gas tax, the new proposal seems likely to come with higher administrative costs, since the Governor has also promised that rural Oregon (where the roads are likely to be less used and driving distances are likely to be far greater) will not be “adversely affected”. What this will likely mean in practice is dividing the state into a number of administrative zones, each with its own “pricing scheme”. I also think we all know how long it’s going to take for members of a community that’s near the border between two zones to start complaining to the legislature if they happen to be situated in an an area in which the state has decided driving is more expensive. (One also assumes that it’s going to cost money to hire people to set up and administer the database and all the other infrastructure.)

And just in case you decide not to install a GPS unit in your old Ford Aspire, the Governor has you covered: he’s just going to raise your gas tax by $0.02/gallon

Expect similar “innovations” in the ways the State of Oregon takes your money if and when aggressive anti-smoking programs and legislation lead to a serious decline in the number of smokers and a concomitant decline in the revenues from sin taxes on tobacco products.

(via Slashdot)

  1. […] Kulongoski has been floating the idea of installing tracking devices in every automobile and taxing drivers by the mile because increased fuel economy standards were starting to cut into gax tax […]

  2. weeeeeeeeee says:

    Your not going to put a GPS on anything that belongs to me no matter how bad you want to.Better idea,stop blowing our money on useless crap like MAX and realise that Oregon is much bigger than PDX.Balance the budget,stop blowing money on BS and stop trying to tax us in the name of Gia.

  3. nike urbanism duk says:

    Debra Saunders had a good column about this in the Cashregister Guard yesterday. It explains how this new change will be a incentive to own a Hummer.

  4. ghost of orwellduk says:

    I imagine Mother Jones magazine is not one of your favorites but they did article mentioning Nike and RFID development some time ago. To find it do a google search with keywords:nike total surveillance. The downtown library already chipped all the books there. They keep it secret because they claim the meth heads will dig the chips out and steal the books if they let people know they are there. P.S.U. mandated student RFID “smart” cards I believe. LTD is working on RFID for wheelchairs that use the EMX meth-express. The LTD RFID effort is in partnership with UO nerd scientists I think. The Emerald had a article about it a couple years ago.

  5. JMT says:

    Chris, THERE ARE ALREADY schools that mandate student IDs on school grounds & they are equipped w/ RFID. I don’t know if any of those type of schools are in OR but they are around.

  6. RThomas says:

    As someone who has been considering a move to Oregon, I have to say you’ve found the perfect solution to keeping me, and all the other people who would like to move there, away. Just pass this into law and I will stay where I am.

    “And just in case you decide not to install a GPS unit in your old Ford Aspire, the Governor has you covered: he

  7. ghost of orwellduk says:

    This situation is a good reason to cut all funding for programs like the “intelligent transportation systems” laboratory at PSU.

  8. Jason Watach says:

    sounds like the governor has never heard of toll roads or the Fourth Amendment

    Jason Watach

  9. Jim says:

    Ms. Imholt, have you given thought to all of the mileage that could be errantly charged to the average driver while he/she is on private or other non-state maintained roads such as the extensive system of federal forest routes and BLM roads that are in the eastern portion of the state? There are many miles of roads that follow closely enough to state owned roads that could be mistaken for state roads by an inaccurate gps transciever. I would urge you to scrap this idea — there is no safeguard under the sun that would keep unscrupulous hands off of the mileage and route data. We all know what some of the next steps would be…What is to stop starving police departments from accessing and manipulating, misreading the data to generate fines for revenue in off-line speed doctoring and analysis? What is to stop misrepresentation of all the data that can be gathered? If you can give me legitimate reasons that the State needs to know why I’m driving to a given destination — and there are none– I’ll endorse your idea 100%. Emergencies might be your ready answer, but they don’t count as there are too many people on the state and federal highways not to get help within a few minutes…and there is no function that would be built into the gps units that would differentiate between a crash and a stop that couldn’t be better handled by people there on the spot that witness the event…No, there are too many ways the technology can be potentially be misused by Big Brother for my taste. Even though I’m an average law-abiding citizen, I don’t like the idea of the pervs in raincoats potentially knowing everywhere I go or have gone. It is none of the state’s business where I drive for lunch or travel to for Christmas…and I certainly won’t pay to put a bell around my own neck that may or may not be a noose.

  10. ghost of orwellduk says:

    If Kulongoski thinks GPS is so great how about we outfit him with one of those permanent ankle bracelets so we can all track him 24/7 online. We can tell him it is for his safety and it is only a “pilot project”. It will help the economy because OSU nerd scientists will be hired for the project. How many days left until this Kool-aid drinking democrat is out of office?

  11. Chris says:

    Next, they will tax you based on number of children in school and how many classes they are taking. GPS units may not be required, but a GPS harness may be developed to track student progress.

  12. Vincent says:

    Given that the report itself says that people will be charged differently if they’re driving in a “congestion zone”, I’m still not convinced that privacy is gong to be respected all that well, since being able to tell if someone is in a “congestion zone” requires being able to identify exactly where someone is at a specific time, recording that information, and charging for it.

  13. Bruce says:

    Wow, another reason not to move back to Oregon. That keep piling on…

  14. JMT says:

    Just like the states that over taxed tobacco & now are having financial problems b/c ppl wanted to avoid paying the extra tobacco tax (extra meaning a separate tax on top of the sales tax) so they either quite smoking OR found ways to by-pass the additional tax & now those over taxing states are having financial problems & are raising other current taxes or creating new ones.

    I have been warning the militant anti-smoking ppl for YEARS that this was going to happen & as a result they would see a whole new host of ways for states to get “creative” in their taxing strategy & now this is happening w/ fuel b/c of hybrids, carpooling, use of public transit etc. (I warned of this too, BTW).

    Yes, right now they say this will replace the current gas tax & it’s “only” $0.012 pm…but how long before it’s $0.05, $1.00 or higher.

    Also, this is worse than other means b/c they say NOW that this will not end up being a “tracker” & ONLY will be used for what they say it will be used for…but then again that is what was said back when the SSA & the corresponding #’s were created. AND that is what was said when the little “black-boxes” were created for vehicles that “only” record in appx 30 second cycles & that it would “only” be used in accident investigations…not so now. AND that is what was said when drug testing was introduced in employment “we will only test those that show signs [“probable cause”] of drug use” but now it is routine to drug test ALL employees. IOW, it is not what they say NOW that REALLY matters BUT where they GO FROM HERE.

  15. bizarre says:

    absolutely bizarre. That’s all I can think of for why this is being proposed. If the gas tax isn’t right, then use the odometer already installed in every car. include a new line on state income tax forms, and if you want to claim x% of the miles you drove were on private property / out of state, allow them to do that. When the auditor comes you’ll have to provide some corroboratory evidence. The whole gps idea is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.

  16. Timothy says:

    Vincent: Two words – Faraday Cage.

  17. Vincent says:

    Heh. What will stop people from tampering with or disabling the mileage counter? When that starts widely happening

  18. Vincent says:


    Thanks for taking the time to reply.

    Unless I’m missing something, this GPS system you’ve outlined basically sounds like every other GPS system available. While the GPS unit is really only recording geospatial points, the very nature of this program means those points, must be linked to a database with personally identifying information — name, address, SSN… that sort of thing. Otherwise, how is the State going to know whom to send the bill to?

    From what I can see, whether or not law enforcement will be able to “track” someone or not, this plan amounts to forcing taxpayers to purchase vehicles with devices installed in them that collect geospatial data about the automobile for storage in a database for purposes of tax collection.

    None of this, of course, is to mention the fact that GPS is notoriously unreliable in areas with large buildings, a lot of trees, in tunnels, etc.

    Instead we propose that auto companies equip the vehicles at manufacturing much like they already do with other government mandated standards like seat belts and emission controls.

    Currently, outfitting a car with a GPS unit usually adds cost to the purchase of the automobile. Unless the State is proposing to subsidise the cost, I don’t see how this isn’t going to be passed onto the consumer. State subsidies, of course, just pass the cost to taxpayers instead.

    While you’ve explained a little bit about how price structuring might be different and/or beneficial for rural drivers, you haven’t done anything to explain how that structure might be administered. Is it correct to assume that there will be some sort of administrative districts set up to set taxes by region?

  19. Ikeonic says:

    There’s a far simpler solution than this stupid mileage tax.

    RAISE the gas tax.

    Kulongowski thinks raising the gas tax is political suicide and impossible, so he won’t fight for it. I thought the liberal Dems controlled this state but he doesn’t have the leverage to raise the gas tax?

    The gas tax is the simplest, fairest way to pay for highway construction and maintenance and has been for DECADES. If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it with high tech gadgets.

    This should be a non-partisan issue. A mileage tax is plain foolish. I’d be happy to pay more in gas taxes at the pump if I knew that money would be spent on roads and not on mass transit. I think most voters could be persuaded likewise if they felt the governor was being honest with them about how the money would be spent.

  20. Ian Random says:

    Hmm, they say the tax is inadequate to fund our roads and no one wants higher taxes. If this were a company they would seek to lower costs. Why not suspend the prevailing wage law in Oregon?

  21. Ian says:

    There are a number of hilarious, insane things in this obscenely misguided “plan”, but two particularly stand out:

    Instead we propose that auto companies equip the vehicles at manufacturing much like they already do with other government mandated standards like seat belts and emission controls.

    So, car manufacturers have to specially design their models for Oregon? That will cost them (and, in turn, us) absurd amounts of money. A simple sales tax on new motor vehicles would have a similar revenue-generating effect without limiting the car models available in the state. (Why would Toyota or Ford design a special Oregon model of a moderately unpopular car if they will only sell a couple dozen in a year?)

    Privacy. ODOT was directed by the task force to protect the privacy of Oregonians while developing the mileage fee system. The mileage counting device that was designed for the study receives a GPS signal (much like a television or radio receives signals) to locate itself but does not transmit a signal. Therefore, there is no ability for anyone

  22. Timothy says:

    Good parasites try to avoid killing the host, apparently the Oregon government didn’t get that memo.

    This is great news for the environment but problematic for road funding.

    Whose problem is that? Is the bloated state taxation system not already stealing enough money from people who actually, you know, produce things? If the real concern were road funding, which is admittedly at least arguably a reasonable thing for a government to fund, it’d be a simple matter of realigning the state budget to make up for the revenue shortfall. There’s plenty of fat to cut, plenty of pet-programs to eliminate.

    Regarding privacy – That’s all well and good, but whose goddamn business is it how many miles a person drives?

    Instead we propose that auto companies equip the vehicles at manufacturing much like they already do with other government mandated standards like seat belts and emission controls.

    So, in order to facilitate your moronic scheme you propose using the power of the state to force uninvolved third parties to conform to your desires? You do realize that this will increase the cost of cars in Oregon specifically and be passed right along to the buyers, right? Further, nothing prevents somebody in the Portland area from just buying a car in Vancouver and registering it in Oregon. You going to make people who move into the state purchase and install these devices as part of their vehicle registration fee? Are you aware that it is extremely easy to keep a car registered in a different state?

    Fairness. Some people assume all vehicles will pay the same mileage fee rate and this would be unfair to drivers of fuel efficient vehicles. This may not be true because the rates and structure have yet to be decided. A flat rate of one cent per mile was used for the pilot study however the rate could differ for different types of vehicles.

    See this, this right here, is ALMOST smart. The real cause of road damage are large consumer vehicles and especially long-haul commercial trucks with extremely high GVW. That’s just basic Newtonian physics right there, so higher fees for higher GVW would be a good idea if it weren’t immediately undermined by your very next paragraph.

    Rural motorists could gain under a mileage fee proposal depending on how it is structured. Because we know that rural Oregonians drive larger, less fuel efficient vehicles, they are already paying more in gas taxes for driving the same miles as their urban counterparts. If the mileage fee was a flat rate, like one cent per mile like in the pilot test, rural drivers would actually pas LESS.

    So…which is it? Will higher weight vehicles pay a higher fee or a flat fee? Call me crazy, but it seems like if you’re some ignorant hillbilly in La Grande and you’re fucking up the patch of dirt your town calls mainstreet with your massive humvee you ought to pay a little bit more to fix the street than urban commuters driving, you know, normal cars. Same goes for the Lake Oswego / West Linn soccer mom contingent.

    A much simpler solution to this is to just put in some goddamn toll booths and go on about your day, but that’d be too simple, too easy, and wouldn’t necessitate useless FTEs like the Administrator for the Road User Fee Pilot Program and we couldn’t have that, now, could we?

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