Washington Studies a VMT Tax. Where Is Virginia?

While Governor Bob McDonnell proposes to scrap the gasoline tax on the grounds that drivers are shifting to more fuel-efficient vehicles and alternate fuels, the state of Washington is heading in a very different direction — instituting a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax.

According to the Associated Press, a committee of transportation experts recently concluded that it was feasible to shift from gasoline taxes to a “pay as you go” road-fee system. A virtue of the tax is that it would treat drivers on an equitable basis, regardless of how much gasoline their cars burned. Washington is joining 18 other states in studying the alternative.

The still are technology, privacy and administrative-efficiency issues to work out. It could be 10 years before the state implements a road-user fee, said Washington Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond. “We’re taking it one step at a time. … I think a robust policy debate is absolutely necessary, and a public vetting.”

McDonnell’s solution is to substitute a higher sales tax for the gas tax, thus severing the link between how much people drive and how much they pay into the transportation system.  As Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, put it in an email blast yesterday, “The shift to the sales tax punishes the significant numbers of seniors and lower income residents who don’t drive, as well as telecommuters, carpoolers, transit users, pedestrians and bicyclists who are all helping to reduce our traffic congestion.”

By making cars and trucks bear a proportionate share of the wear and tear they cause on roads, a VMT tax would be a fair, economically efficient way to pay for maintaining Virginia’s roads, bridges and highways.

Transportation Funding Update: This just in… The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce has endorsed McDonnell’s transportation funding plan. “Current levels of congestion outside and within our region have placed business growth, tourism, port growth and our military facilities at risk,” states a press release distributed today.  The governor’s plan would be broad-based, efficient to collect and sourced from consumers, and it would “enable everyone to pay their fair share.”

Update: Now this just in… The Virginia Association of Automobile Dealers has endorsed the governor’s plan.

—  JAB

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15 responses to “Washington Studies a VMT Tax. Where Is Virginia?”

  1. Virginia as a commonwealth will never institute a VMT tax because we as her citizens are too worried about the inherent privacy issues, whether they actually exist or not.

  2. the interesting thing is that Washington already has a fuel tax twice what Virginia’s is and apparently STILL needs MORE transpo money!

    when you figure in the Fed Tax in Washington, it is 55.9 cents a gallon – and they want (need?) more!

    re: Hampton Roads

    that region is going to be in favor of any tax that is not only just on their region – such as a region-specific tax.

    they are convinced that they will receive more transpo money if there is a statewide tax and apparently nothing will dissuade them from this kind of thinking.

    they also deeply distrust their MPO and would prefer than VDOT
    prioritize projects in their region even though the bureaucrats are more faceless and unelected than the MPO is.

    McDonnell may be on to something if NoVa comes out the same way that Hampton Roads did.

    I still seriously doubt this is going to go anywhere… and that McDonnell did this to shake things up in hopes that people would
    vote for the lesser evil (whatever that might be).

  3. Neil Haner Avatar
    Neil Haner

    Technologically speaking, the VMT is already feasible in Virginia due to our annual inspection requirement… inspectors submit the odometer reading along with the VIN to the state, and the state sends you a bill for the odometer increase for the year. There’s no need for anything to record the vehicle’s use, and privacy concerns are abated.

    My issue with the VMT is that it places all the burden on residents, and none on vehicles registered elsewhere that still use our roads. Imagine all the trucking companies in NoVA registering their fleet in MD by setting up a dummy garage across the state line, or a similar situation developing for HR trucks setting up a base of operations in Elizabeth City, NC instead, to avoid the added tax burden on their commercial operations. Add in the lost revenue from tourists, business travelers, and interstate trucking operations that use and abuse our pavements while contributing nothing in return.

    Re: Hampton Roads, I’d prefer they withhold their seal of approval for actual concrete (pun intended) projects being funded. Playing games with the funding source is all well and good, but as a HR resident and commuter, I won’t be happy until VDOT spells out what their timetable and funding plans are for specific projects… namely widening 64 from Richmond to NN and adding tubes somewhere from the Peninsula to Norfolk. Just because McDonnell thinks this will raise more money doesn’t mean any real work is going to be done with it.

    1. The issue with out-of-state drivers is a real one. Both gas tax proponents (Dick Saslaw) and the Governor’s plan have some provision for taxing out-of-staters when they purchase something.

    2. I think the beauty of the gas tax is that the association between the tax and the user is physical – and it’s the gas tank on the vehicle that the person is buying fuel for.

      Anything else, except perhaps a transponder or some other passive “biller” becomes an administrative issue involving humans…

      so..for instance, you give the state inspector a few bucks to get the reported mileage wrong…. and then that means someone else will be checking to see who claimed only 5000 miles a year, etc….

      what people might go for would be cars that broadcast their VIN and miles every time they gas up and the computer automatically computes the mileage and adds the tax to the pump total.

      I just don’t think people are ever going to agree to a GPS that is owned by the govt or can be monitored by the govt if the information that is subject to monitoring is track data like most GPS capture.

      And no.. I won’t accept any “promises” that law enforcement won’t cheat… they will.. no question about it. they already put GPS trackers on cars and this is on it’s way to the SCOTUS as essentially a warrant less monitoring. I just don’t see this working… politically but if one state gets it through, who knows?

      on the funding –

      old vs new = same old same old for Hampton which basically is that they believe that RoVa should help fund their region’s roads.

      It really don’t matter if the tax is a gas tax or a sales tax, they still think the same way.

      they are not alone by any means but they have weighed in so strongly against a regional tax – be it gas or sales and at the same time been strongly in favor of a state-wide tax – gas or sales.

    3. Barleys Soapbox Avatar
      Barleys Soapbox


      Check out: http://web1.millercenter.org/conferences/report/conf_2009_transportation.pdf Interesting perspectives from people who really study transportation issues.

      The VMT is, as you pointed out, a viable means of collecting a mileage tax on all instate vehicles below a certain weight.

      The Weight-Distance Levy (WDL, a commercial VMT) is a per mile levy on larger commercial vehicles based on GVW and axle count. States that use it require all companies, regardless of where based, who will operate commercial rigs on their roads to register with that state and post performance bond to guarantee tax collection. GPS and manual methods record these vehicles weights and miles driven.

      The VMT and WDL are both fractions of cent per mile. Both would be used in conjunction with an increased Fuels Tax. The idea would be to find a permanent, dedicated source of revenue for roads. No tax seems to please everyone, but this combo gets money from conventional fueled vehicles, alt fuels, out of state cars, and would add a significant boost from commercial rigs.

      Whatever your opinion, hope you write your Delegate and Senator.

  4. Breckinridge Avatar

    If a federal VMT replaces the federal gas tax, it might be much easier for Virginia to follow suit. It makes more sense if it becomes a nationwide system (just like, ahem, the idea of motor fuels taxes has become a universal federal-state duality.) You could even then come up with an apportionment system like they use for freight trucks, and states would share in the taxes paid by cars that routinely visit multilple states.

    FY somebody, the federal gas tax is not much higher than the current state tax — may a penny or so higher. Certainly not twice as much.

  5. I agree …IF we use something like a RFID in the car that broadcasts it’s VIN and the computer matches the VIN with other info – at the gas pump. Of course a car that broadcasts it’s VIN could be easily “tracked” with “readers” at places other than fueling stations also.

    Of course the average person does not realize right now that the state-of-the-art for license plates “readers” is mature and already in use at border crossings, toll road gantries and in police cars….

    it’s a simple matter for a license plate “reader” to “capture” your plate at the Sheetz – check your vehicle data and compute a tax in real time – in the same time it takes for your credit card to be “read” and validated and charged for the sale.

    but I totally agree.. this has a much better chance of working at the Federal level – TECHNICALLY but likely not politically, ESPECIALLY if the AGENDA 21 folks get involved!

  6. Barleys Soapbox Avatar
    Barleys Soapbox

    More from Barley’s Soapbox. Please feel free to share this with family and friends.

    Ever heard, “Americans can always be relied upon to do the right thing, after they have tried everything else.” I wonder how much longer our elected representations will continue to try everything else. How much longer will our representatives continue distracting the voters by shoveling out the minutia of fixes that go nowhere? I submit disingenuous shoveling may continue as long as special interests can throw money at them. The only common theme I see in the transportation funding debate is a desire to avoid dedicated funding that distributes the load more fairly across the vehicles that use our roads.

    I was very surprised to read, in the online RT-D, a statement from Governor McDonnell where he said that 80 percent of the wear on our roads came from trucks, and that most of those came from outside the state. Highway engineers have understood the basics for decades. Now consider the widening of the Panama Canal with completion expected in 2014. Some project that the increase in Hampton Roads container traffic will add between 5,000 and 6,000 trucks per day above current usage. These trucks, along with current traffic of commercial rigs, buses, dump trucks, and cement trucks will only add to the expense of maintaining our roads. Do we want to pay for this with such plans as re-prioritizing tax revenue, borrowing against the future, or increasing sales taxes on the individual?

    The Miller Center of Public of Public Affairs published a report in 2009 titled, “Well Within Reach, Americas New Transportation Agenda.” This report, among other things, suggests a Vehicle Mileage Tax as a source of “pay-as-you-go” user’s fees. Four other states use a version of the weight-mileage tax based on gross vehicle weight and axle count for all trucks that use their roads. George Grayson, from William and Mary, suggested the idea in his commentary, “The ‘Hooch for Highways’ Scheme Doesn’t Add Up,” published in the RT-D, 11 July 2010: E4. These methods can be incorporated with an increase in the Fuels Tax to provide a permanent, dedicated source of funding for transportation. The amazing piece of this puzzle is that we do not have to reinvent the wheel. The mechanisms and technology necessary to make it work are already in place.

    Do we want the same old same old “politically viable” schemes that appease special interests? Or, do we want to try some best management practices? Which do we really want?

    Hello General Assembly, is anyone listening?

    1. Thanks, Barley, you make a lot of sense. An obvious problem with the VMT tax is that it fails to capture out-of-state trucking. But we could solve that problem if we maintained the motor fuels tax on diesel gasoline. That would create a problem for people with diesel-fueled automobiles (I used to have one), but the number affected is very small. Also, it would be critical to set the diesel tax at a level that is commensurate with the damage that heavy trucks cause on the highways. Thanks for your thoughts.

  7. I thought the Gov proposal KEPT the fuel tax on diesel…..

    ” While he wants to eliminate the gas tax, McDonnell’s plan keeps the 17.5-cent tax on diesel fuel. Staffers said that interstate trucking traffic accounts for 68 percent of the diesel fuel tax revenues in Virginia, and that trucks create 80 percent of the deterioration of state roads.”

    Of course the basic argument for truck damage is that if you actually charge trucks for the damage they do – they’ll just add that cost on to the shipping charges we pay.

    and of course… all of us have gone past the fairly common truck weigh scales which means we actually do monitor truck weights but that apparently, we are willing to let them carry the weight that in turn causes the 80% damage rather than restrict them to …say 50% damage.

    and of course, the curious fact that Europe uses twice the base layers for their roads precisely because they don’t want the more frequent maintenance issues caused by truck weights.

    I still think that VDOT likes to build new roads more than they like to maintain and operate them so we end up with more and more roads but no real correlation between adding asphalt and improved/better performance.

    Virginia’s transpo budget is 3.7 billion dollars a year. That’s more than 400 per capita per year. Think about that. the only thing that exceeds it is education – and it’s not enough.

    1. Keeping the fuel tax on diesel makes total sense — whether you go with the governor’s tax plan or a VMT.

  8. DJRippert Avatar

    If you want the Commonwealth of Virginia to be a modern state that is willing to be an early adopter of new ideas like the VMT you must first change the governance system.

    Virginia’s system of governance is an anachronism. It is the dinosaur of states.

    Just one example – governor’s term limits.

    From Wikipedia:

    “Unique in its restriction, Virginia prohibits its governors from succeeding themselves, although former governors are re-eligible after four years out of office. Many other states formerly had this prohibition, but all eliminated it by 2000.”.

    Innovation requires strong leadership. A one term governor will never have the political power to force innovation on the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond. And that’s just how the clowns like it.

    If you want things like ROI for roads, a VMT, etc. you must reform the governance system in the state.

    The current system is designed to elect state legislators forever while giving them complete dominion over the executive and legislative branches.

    Blaming McDonnell for making progress on transportation funding is silly. He is doing the best that can be expected in the most strictly term limited position in the United States.

    The Virginia General Assembly, a wholly owned subsidiary of Dominion Resources, is the problem.

  9. there is some rich irony in DJ angst.

    to wit:

    Eight US Presidents were born in Virginia:

    George Washington born in Pope’s Creek, Virginia
    Thomas Jefferson born in Goochland County, Virginia.
    James Madison born in Port Conway, Virginia.
    James Monroe born in Westmoreland County, Virginia.
    William H. Harrison born in Charles City County, Virginia.
    John Tyler born in Charles City County, Virginia.
    Zachary Taylor born in Orange County, Virginia,
    Woodrow Wilson born in Staunton, Virginia.

    the first 4 were literally founding fathers of the Nation and likely had a role in the establishment of Virginia Governance.

    ” The preparation of the first Virginia Constitution began in early 1776, in the midst of the early events of the American Revolution. Among those who drafted the 1776 Constitution were George Mason and James Madison. Thomas Jefferson was Virginia’s representative to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia at the time, and his drafts of the Virginia constitution arrived too late to be incorporated into the final document.[2] James Madison’s work on the Virginia Constitution helped him develop the ideas and skills that he would later use as one of the main architects of the United States Constitution.[3]”

    DJ.. I don’t know what to say here… do you have some thoughts on this revolting situation?


    1. DJRippert Avatar


      You really must work to understand Virginia history. I recommend “Virginia: The New Dominion, A History from 1607 to the present” by Virginius Dabney.

      Unfortunately, the book ends at about 1970. However, the history up to that point is superb. The chapter on what really happened in Bacon’s Rebellion is worth the price of the book, in my opinion.

      One thing you’ll immediately see is that Virginia is presently operating under its seventh constitution. Unlike the US Constitution, the Virginia Constitution has been completely rewritten many times. While the overall “inalienable rights” thinking has been preserved, the present Virginia Constitution’s governance process bears little resemblance to anything envisioned by the founding fathers. In fact, the second to last Virginia Constitution (1902) was specifically written to disenfranchise African-Americans. The historical legacy of Virginia’s constitutions is often disgraceful.

      You will also learn that a number of the presidents born in Virginia were Virginians in name only. William Henry Harrison developed strong anti-slavery views while studying with Quakers at an academy in Southampton County, Virginia in his youth. His anti-slavery attitude offended his father (a “typical” Richmond-style Virginian who had been governor of Virginia). The senior Harrison shipped him off to Philadelphia to study medicine with Robert Morris. Dad promptly died leaving William Henry Harrison destitute at age 18. Governor Henry Lee (VA) convinced young Harrison to join the Army.

      Harrison would marry an Ohio girl and go on to be Governor of the Indiana Territory and congressman and senator from Ohio before becoming president.

      In many ways, Harrison was an anti-Richmonder, much like many people in the Virginia counties that became West Virginia.

      Had Harrison not died of natural causes only 30 days after being inaugurated, the history of the United States (especially the Civil War) might have been quite different.

      Harrison’s successor, John Tyler, was a true Richmond-style Virginia politician. Lacking a moral compass and incapable of effective leadership Tyler’s presidency was something of a disaster. After dropping out of the 1844 presidential race Tyler went back to his plantation in Virginia where he was widely mocked for his tenure as president. However, Tyler would would hold a final political office – as a delegate to the Provisional Confederate Congress. He died before the Confederate Congress met. He is buried in Richmond, Va. Unsurprisingly, there is a large monument to Tyler at his gravesite in the Hollywood Cemetery. He was never elected president.

      Zachary Taylor was born in Virginia. However, as was the case in much of Virginia, over farming of tobacco resulted in the exhaustion of the land which Taylor’s family owned. He would move with his family (at a young age) to Louisville, KY. Taylor also died in office under mysterious circumstances after a brief tenure as president. He was a Virginian in name only.

      Woodrow Wilson was born in Virginia but came of political age in New Jersey. He found political fame as the President of Princeton University and Governor of New Jersey. Claiming Wilson as a Virginia politician is quite a stretch.

      So, from your list of “Virginia” presidents, the most recent man who actually lived as an adult in Virginia was John Tyler – a man never elected president but, rather, became president upon the death of Harrison.

      The most recent man on your list to have been born in Virginia, lived as an adult in Virginia and elected president was James Monroe. Monroe was the fifth president of the United States. He died on July 4, 1831.

      Get the book and read it, LarryG.

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