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Senate advances bill to study gas tax alternatives

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the not-too-distant future, a vehicle mileage fee could replace or supplement the state gas tax as a way to fund state highway construction and maintenance, state Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox said Wednesday.

"This is going to be the mechanism of the future, because of the increase in fuel mileage for vehicles," Mattox told the Senate Finance Committee.

On a divided voice-vote, the committee advanced to the full Senate a bill (SB354) to authorize the Division of Highways to study alternatives to the state gas tax to fund highway construction and maintenance.

"We see the future of fuel tax revenue going down with more fuel-efficient vehicles," Mattox said.

Earlier this session, Mattox told the committee that state Road Fund revenues will fall $8.5 million in the coming budget year, as federal funding and state gas tax collections decline. Meanwhile, the state needs an additional $1.3 billion a year to fully fund all road construction and maintenance needs.

Under the bill, the division can look at various alternative-funding options, but Mattox said charging a fee for miles traveled is the most practical alternative.

"The one thing that seems to have interest nationwide is vehicle miles traveled," he said.

He said the mileage could be measured manually, as a part of state inspections, or similar state-mandated reporting. Another option, Mattox said, would be to track mileage electronically, as is being tested in Oregon, where cars in Portland are required to have state-supplied GPS devices which report mileage to receiving devices installed on gas pumps.

Meanwhile, he said the Governor's Blue Ribbon Panel on Highways also is monitoring Virginia's plan to increase the state sales tax by 0.5 percent, dedicating the revenue to highways.

Mattox said each 1-cent increase in West Virginia's gas tax provides about $14 million, while a 0.5 percent increase in the state sales tax would provide about $100 million a year.

Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam, asked whether the proposed alternative road funding study would duplicate efforts by the governor's panel.

"I would be interested to know what an additional study will add," he stated.

Mattox said the governor's panel briefly studied a mileage fee, but said the proposal requires a more thorough study than the panel could complete in a short time frame and with limited funding.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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