State considers axing gas tax in favor of mileage-based fee

State considers axing gas tax in favor of mileage-based fee

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state is proposing to get rid of the gas tax used to fund road repairs and replace it with a mileage-based user fee.

Hawaii drivers pay 16 cents a gallon currently, and that money makes up one third of the state Highway Fund revenue.

But it hasn't been enough, and the state says a mileage-based fee might help generate more money without unduly hurting some drivers.

"Whether you're driving a brand new electric vehicle or a brand new pick up truck, they'll all pay the same price" under the proposal, said Tim Sakahara, state Transportation Department spokeswoman.

The gas tax plus other state fees add up to 42 cents per gallon. That's the fourth-highest gas tax in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation.

The state has secured a $4 million federal grant for a three-year study to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of scrapping the gas tax that goes to road repairs. The state will pitch in another $1.5 million for the study.

As part of the study, DOT will track 2,000 drivers. Information collected will help the state figure out how it would implement the fee.

Officials acknowledge there are still a lot of unanswered questions about how a mileage-based fee would work. Some key issues: Which entity would be in charge of tracking mileage? How much would drivers be charged per mile? And would the fee have to be paid in one lump sum?

The plan already has its critics.

"I think it's terrible," said state Sen. Sam Slom, a Republican.

Slom says drivers on the west side of Oahu shouldn't be penalized for working in town.

"It's not a new idea. We talked about this before," he said. "Who do you hurt? You hurt the people in Waianae and Nanakuli. The people who drive farther to their jobs."

But Sakahara says it's a misconception that residents of rural areas and those living in West Oahu will have to pay more.

"The whole time they're sitting in traffic, idling away, they're actually burning fuel, which means they're burning the gas tax as well," Sakahara said.

Meanwhile, drivers weren't sure what to make the plan.

Some said its impossible to know who the fee might hurt until the state determines how much to charge per mile.

Others want nothing to do with a new tax.

"I think it would be a far better use of money if we got our act together and actually fixed the roads instead of continue to study them," said driver Kathryn Higa.

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