Advocates of a mileage tax say new transportation revenue is needed because gasoline taxes have remained relatively flat while cars become more fuel efficient and electric vehicles are introduced.
(TNS) -- Amid criticism from Republican legislators, the Department of Transportation said there are no plans to implement a mileage-based tax on motorists, even after the state signed on to a grant application with four other states to investigate that model of transportation funding.
Connecticut joined New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania and Delaware to apply for $2.1 million in federal money to study so-called "mileage-based user fees," which would tax drivers based on the number of highway miles they drive.
Advocates say new transportation revenue is needed because gasoline taxes have remained relatively flat while cars become more fuel efficient and electric vehicles are introduced.
"This means vehicles are traveling farther for the same amount of gas (and the associated fuel tax), with some vehicles (e.g., EVs) not paying anything for their use of the roadway," the five states wrote in a grant application submitted on behalf of the "I-95 Corridor Coalition."
Republicans in the state legislature were quick to criticize the proposal, which was floated last year as a possible way to pay for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's $100 billion transportation plan.
"If you thought the idea of tolls was unpopular, just wait until you try to tax Connecticut residents for every single mile they drive," said Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, ranking member of the General Assembly's transportation committee.
Democrats in the General Assembly also said that any plans for additional taxes have no support from legislative leaders.
"This year, Democrats in the General Assembly overwhelmingly rejected any tax increases," said Adam Joseph, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats. "Senate Democratic leadership remain opposed to this proposal."
A spokesman for the state Department of Transportation stressed that the grant was for a study and later a possible pilot program, and that any new fees are years away.
"This is not anywhere close to implementation," said Judd Everhart, the agency's director of communications, in an email Monday. "Actually implementing this system — a 'mileage-based user fee' — could be 10 years away, and of course would require legislative and gubernatorial approval."
In a statement emailed hours later, after Republicans raised concerns, Everhart reiterated that the agency wouldn't be implementing the system.
"We have no intention of moving forward with a mileage-based user fee program," he said. "Suggestions to the contrary are untrue. The Department of Transportation has an obligation to understand driver behavior and applying for a federal grant to study an idea's feasibility and further our understanding is, simply, what we do — we fight for every dollar available."
In January, a final report from a committee tasked with looking at funding options for Malloy's transportation infrastructure overhaul mentioned a possible shift to a fee-per-mile model and advocated for the grant application.
"As vehicular fuel efficiency increases, hybrid and electric cars become more prevalent, construction costs climb and oil prices stay well below levels of just two to three years ago, traditional fuel taxes will increasingly fail to meet infrastructure revenue needs," the panel's report reads. "This is as true in Connecticut as it is across the entire country."
One of the goals of the study and pilot program would be to figure out the best way to track how many miles motorists are driving. Options include an after-market mileage counter with GPS capabilities, a smartphone app or electronics installed directly into a vehicle.
A study by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program last year found significant public resistance to mileage-based fees.
"The majority of the public does not yet support [the fees]," the conclusion of the study reads. "People's key concerns most likely include privacy, fairness, distrust of the technology and administrative capacity needed to collect mileage-based user fees and a belief that the gas tax still functions better than [mileage-based fees] would."
©2016 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.