Mercer Island Reporter


Stop whining and argue the real case against tolls | Island Forum

By JOHN MAHONEY Mercer Island Reporter Contributor
February 20, 2013 · 11:04 AM

Mercer Islanders need to redirect the argument against tolling I-90. Whining about having to pay tolls every time we go anywhere, and a potential fall in property values, will not win any hearts, minds or votes off Island. There are, however, many great reasons not to toll I-90. Let’s argue the real case against tolls and create allies in this fight.

Transportation is a regional problem. Our regional transportation system is falling apart and must be repaired. The fix must be a regional solution. Tolling I-90 to pay for 520 does not address our bigger problem — maintaining the entire road system. This fix will cost money.

As we taxpayers begrudgingly agree to more taxes, we must insist that they be dedicated to road improvement projects and protected from politicians who want to use those taxes for social engineering.

I believe the best and most transparent way to collect the necessary taxes is through user fees. Tolls are clearly user fees, but they won’t do more than address two bridges. Other forms of user fees are gas taxes, sales taxes, vehicle registration fees and proposed mileage fees.

Gas taxes are the ultimate user fee. The more you drive, the more gas you consume, and consequently the more tax you pay. Drivers will know at the time they buy gas what it will cost, including taxes. Finally, the system is already in place to collect gas taxes and our state constitution requires gas taxes to go to a trust fund for transportation project only. The system exists; we just need to adjust the gas tax to a rate that is appropriate for our needs.

Sales taxes, another user fee, represent a nefarious approach to raising the revenue from gas sales. Sales taxes would raise revenue for sure, and it would even “feel the same” at the pump — built into the price we pay. Such sales taxes, though they would not go to a transportation trust fund, would go into the general fund and could be used however politicians choose.

Vehicle registration fees are another form of user fee; only vehicle owners pay the fee. Electric and hybrid vehicles should pay a higher registration fee to reflect their road use that is not supported by gas taxes. The infrastructure to collect these fees is already in place. We just need sensible decisions on what the increased fees should be.

Some bureaucrats have proposed mileage fees, but this suggestion has major shortcomings. Unlike gas taxes that are paid in advance, mileage fees could only be collected after the fact. Many people simply won’t be able to pay the unexpected bills when they arrive, while for others, it will be a major, unexpected drain on an already stretched budget. Some proponents also propose GPS devices to track mileage, but these will pose privacy and cost issues that concern many. Finally, there is no infrastructure in place to implement a mileage fee tax, so we would need a new bureaucracy and additional costs to implement such proposals.

We must pay more taxes to maintain the roads and infrastructure we have and need. Those taxes need to be dedicated for transportation projects. Isolated approaches such as tolls on certain bridges don’t address our regional problems. We have the mechanisms in place to collect gas taxes and registration fees. We don’t need new administrations and new problems. Raise the gas taxes and vehicle registration fees and forget about tolls, sales taxes and mileage fees! This approach would be fair to all, efficient to implement and effective in addressing the entire transportation system.


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