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Washington Legislature hears proposed pay-per-mile tax

By Erin Freeman | Lynnwood Times Staff

Olympia, Wash., – In its 2021 session, the Washington state legislature’s Senate Transportation Committee received a hearing on February 18 proposing a mileage-based tax on electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. 

The pay-per-mile proposal introduced by state Senator Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle) aims at initiating a shift in how the state pays for road maintenance and other transportation needs. 

According to staff testimony, stategas tax is declining, so the state needs to explore alternative sources of transportation funding, with an emphasis on preservation.

“We’ve had a decreasing revenue source for transportation and increasing need for preservation and maintenance,” Saldaña said. “So, I offer this up.”

Currently, state residents owning electric cars pay an annual combined fee of $225. Sen. Saldana’s proposal would replace this fee with a 2 cents per mile road usage charge for electric cars and plug-in hybrids as of July 1, 2026. 

If drivers presume that the bill will save them money, they may also have the individual opportunity to switch to the pay-per-mile policy from July 2025 to June 2026. The early adoption program also requires the involvement of at least 500 state fleet vehicles. 

To tack electric vehicle distance, Sen. Saldana suggests that drivers should be provided with a variety of options to record their mileage to suit their preferences. She proposed a GPS tracker with privacy safeguards as an option, a smartphone app, or an in-person annual odometer reading.

The bill, if adopted, requires privacy of the per-mile funding system data and information, including making any related personally identifiable information exempt from the public records act. 

Several committee members were hesitant, citing the probability of a high cost of tracking the taxable mileage of individual drivers and collecting the resulting charges. 

“It doesn’t look like a real money maker,” said Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima).

Due to the repeal of the electric vehicle fees, they also argue the legislation will result in less funding for road preservation needs. This needs to get addressed to ensure revenue neutrality and to avoid this unintended consequence.

Transportation committee chairman Senator Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens) said that the per-mile tax may be an equitable solution for Washingtonians with electric and hybrid vehicles. 

“Doing nothing, that is not the answer,” said Hobbs. “Right now, there is just a big, giant fee. Nobody likes that. If there is a way to be more fair about this by doing it by the mile, then we should attempt to do that.”

Those in opposition to the proposal have refuted that the per-mile system is equitable, saying it fails to address the disproportionate impact of different weights of vehicles. They say that to be truly equitable, that and differences between electric vehicles need to be factored into the rates. 

While details of the bill need to be worked out further, sponsors of the proposal say that as the Legislature establishes the appropriate per-mile rates, fairness, predictability, and durability will be considered. 

Legislative staff and the Department of Licensing anticipate approximately 142,000 vehicles in 2026 to be impacted if the measure passes. 

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