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New taxes on gas, electric cars?: CDOT says it's just talking about them right now

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In "CDOT exploring tax on electric vehicles, raising gas tax," reporter Todd Shepherd argues that the department is "conducting significant research on raising department revenues through at least two new potential transit taxes." This claim is bolstered by a July 28 e-mail from CDOT Deputy Executive Director Herman Stockinger, in which he asks a staffer for "various revenue estimations by raising the state gas tax... starting in 2014."

Also included is a PDF, included below, showing projections based on varying tax hikes. For instances, a 1 percent increase in the gas tax would generate nearly $300 million over the course of a decade if it started in fiscal year 2013.

A separate e-mail from legislative liaison Melissa Nelson-Osse suggests that CDOT is "strongly considering running an alternative fuel vehicle tax in the 2012 General Assembly session," Shepherd writes. That note includes a link to an Oregon bill that would have assessed a "vehicle-use tax," as opposed to a gas tax. That way, vehicles that either don't use gas, or hybrids that use less of it, would also generate revenue for the state. The legislation eventually died, Shepherd notes.

CDOT spokeswoman Stacey Stegman is quoted in Shepherd's piece, and while she doesn't call into question the legitimacy of the e-mails or claim to have been misquoted, she feels the piece puts forward a false impression that tax proposals are imminent. "We're not bringing this forward as a bill," she stresses. "We're just exploring what options are out there and what other states are doing.

"In our industry, you look at what are the best ways to maintain the system you have for funding," she notes. "Gas taxes stayed relatively flat as far as trying to raise revenue," likely due in part to "more fuel-efficient vehicles and alternative-fuel vehicles that pay virtually no taxes. So it's becoming that much more difficult to raise funding to maintain the system we have," let alone "building something new."

For that reason, Stegman continues, "many states are looking into ways to fund transportation. And so things are being tossed around like instead of having a gas tax, charging everybody for what they drive -- a vehicle-mileage-based fee. Oregon is a groundbreaking state when it comes to looking for new ways to fund, and they did put together legislation regarding taxing alternative-fuel vehicles. So all we're doing is looking into what Oregon is doing to see if it's something we should pursue."

As such, any implication that new taxes or a new taxation approach is coming 'round the bend "is premature," Stegman allows. "All we're doing is trying to understand how other states are dealing with the issue, to see if it's an approach we want to take. So it's really an education process right now."

Indeed, Stegman concedes that "we haven't determined that alternative-fuel vehicles are having a major impact on our funding at this point. But we're going through a time when we have scarce funds, and we're getting more concerned about how we're going to maintain our system. And everybody uses the system -- everybody's vehicle causes wear and tear. So, in fairness, everyone should be paying something to drive on our highways. But what that something is, we have no idea at this point."

Page down to see the CDOT projections about gas tax revenue, as well as the aforementioned Oregon bill.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts