SJR 8211: to protect any future Road Usage Charge money for highway spending only
1. Senate Joint Resolution 8211 would give voters the opportunity to support (ratify) or reject an amendment to Article II, Section 40 (18th Amendment) of the Washington State constitution.
2. The 18th Amendment protects vehicle license fees and state fuel tax for highway purposes only.
3. SJR 8211 would add to the list of protected revenue “any state revenue collected from a road usage charge (RUC), vehicle miles traveled fee, or other similar type of comparable charge,” which would also have to be used exclusively for highway purposes.
4. If the RUC is intended to replace the state gas tax, it should replicate the features of the gas tax.
5. If lawmakers support SJR 8211 out of the legislature, they should be careful to make sure that the language that ends up on the ballot is very clear that supporting 18th Amendment protection of a potential Road Usage Charge does not equate to supporting implementation of a RUC, which is a separate effort requiring a separate public debate that has yet to take place.
6. SJR 8211 would serve the public interest by ensuring that if a per-mile charge is ever imposed on drivers in the future, the revenue collected would be protected under the 18th Amendment to directly support the roads and bridges they depend on for mobility.
If implemented, a Road Usage Charge (also called a per-mile charge, vehicle miles traveled tax, mileage tax, and mileage-based user fee) would require drivers to pay a tax to the state for every mile they drive, instead of paying a tax on every gallon of gas they purchase at the pump.
The Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) has led the effort to study, test and report back to the legislature on the feasibility of a Road Usage Charge in Washington state and voted in support of policy recommendations to be sent to the legislature. One of those recommendations is that “expenditures of RUC revenue should be made subject to Amendment 18.” The Commission rightly reasons that if the RUC is intended to replace the state gas tax, it should replicate the features of the gas tax that protect it for funding public roads.
Although the WSTC voted for 18th Amendment protection of RUC revenue, it is up to lawmakers to decide on the policy parameters of any new vehicle use tax, and whether they want to constitutionally protect money to ensure the RUC remains a true user fee, as the gas tax is, rather than being diverted as a subsidy for other programs unrelated to supporting highway infrastructure for drivers.