HB 2026: to impose a mileage tax on drivers to pay for roads, transit, and other transportation
1. House Bill 2026 would establish a Road Usage Charge (RUC) program that gradually imposes a 2.5-cent per-mile charge on drivers, beginning with mandatory participation from those who own electric vehicles, and then expanding on a voluntary basis to those who own hybrids and all other vehicles.
2. The revenue collected from a RUC would be deposited into a new dedicated RUC account, restricted for “transportation purposes” which may include highways, transit and other non-highway programs. This diverges from the Washington State Transportation Commission’s reasonable recommendation to constitutionally protect RUC revenue for highway purposes.
3. Diluting the RUC to pay for things like transit, which already receives substantial funding despite low ridership, is wasteful and unnecessary.
4. HB 2026 caps the amount of RUC owed by EV owners. In practice, this means EV owners would not pay a true Road Usage Charge – since capping the RUC would disconnect their tax from actual miles driven.
5. This cap would be especially problematic in the context of equity. Most electric vehicles in the state are registered in Western Washington in wealthy zip codes.
6. This bill is not a good approach to implementing RUC policy in Washington state and would create significant funding and equity problems.
The Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) has been leading the effort to study, test, and report to the legislature the feasibility of imposing a per-mile tax, formally known as a Road Usage Charge (RUC). If implemented, a RUC would require drivers to pay a tax for every mile they drive rather than paying a tax on every gallon of gas they purchase.
The year-long RUC Pilot Project was completed in 2018. The pilot explored the feasibility of getting the public to accept paying a per-mile tax instead of a per-gallon gas tax. The tested rate was 2.4 cents per mile, based on an average fuel efficiency of 20 miles per gallon. The pilot was a simulation, so while participants received invoices, no transactions took place.
The WSTC produced a final report and its members voted for 16 policy recommendations which they sent to the legislature for consideration. One recommendation is that RUC revenue be protected under the state constitution’s 18th Amendment, to restrict spending RUC revenue to highway purposes only. The Commission also recommends a “startup phase” that would include “a limited number of vehicles to facilitate further testing and system improvements.” Specifically, the Commission advised that such a phase could include electric and hybrid vehicles, as well as state-owned vehicles.
SB 6586 was introduced in 2020 to implement the test plan, but the bill was not adopted. SB 5444 was introduced in 2021 in a second attempt at RUC implementation, with modified provisions. It, too, did not pass. Now, Representative Emily Wicks has introduced House Bill 2026.
While in theory there may be some benefits to a RUC, HB 2026 contains several flawed provisions that would make it counterproductive.