Thursday, Jan. 29, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Motorists could someday be taxed based on the number of miles they drive, not the gallons of gas they consume.
Increased fuel efficiency reduces gas tax revenue, the primary funding source for road construction and maintenance. Meanwhile, those infrastructure costs are rising.
Susan Martinovich, director of the Nevada Transportation Department, said this week that a study is under way in Washoe County to see how taxing miles driven might work.
Martinovich said vehicles would be equipped with a mechanism tracking when the car is driven, where it’s driven and how far.
“It would provide a formula to charge them when they go to the gas station” or a bill based on this formula could be sent to car owners, Martinovich said at a hearing of Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees.
The study on alternative ways to tax motorists will take about two years and involve about 100 volunteers in Washoe County. The state will join the county and the University of Nevada, Reno, to do the research.
“We’re looking at how it will work and we don’t want to create a bureaucratic burden,” she told reporters after the hearing. “But you still want the people to have a choice and pay for what they actually use.”
Motorists who drive during times of heaviest traffic congestion would be charged more. “They are going to be paying more than if they went a different way or a different time,” she said.
“We have to look at the legal aspects. We have to look at the public-privacy issue,” she said.
The Transportation Department is supported mainly by federal and state fuel taxes paid at the pump. The department plans to spend about $1.3 billion during the coming two years, of which more than $750 million would go for construction projects. Salaries would consume more than $260 million.
The Department of Motor Vehicles is launching a pilot program in Clark and Washoe counties to allow registration of newly purchased vehicles via the Internet instead of visiting the local DMV office.
The program will be available at 13 dealerships in Las Vegas — 10 from the Desert Group and Findlay Honda, People’s Mazda and Towbin Hummer. In Washoe County, those taking part in the pilot program are Lexus of Reno and Reno Toyota.
“This new system is part of the department’s ongoing search for technology that makes it faster and more convenient to do business with the DMV,” said Edgar J. Roberts, director of the department. “It will also help the department do its part in saving taxpayers dollars during the current economic downturn.”
There are some restrictions. Motor homes and trailers cannot be registered online, and certain license plates, such as those for antique or classic vehicles, cannot be transferred using the Internet.
During the Legislative Commission’s budget subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, expressed dismay that Gov. Jim Gibbons’ proposed budget calls for steep cuts in adult education as enrollment is soaring and the need for such alternatives continues to grow.
Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas was quick with a rejoinder.
“With all due respect to the Senate majority leader, you’re making a wrong assumption,” Buckley said. “You’re assuming this budget was constructed with rationality.”
Administrators “are doing their best” within the parameters they’ve been given, Buckley added. “But the target doesn’t make sense when you are cutting adult ed at a time when we need people to get their GED’s and need a more qualified workforce.”
Sun reporter Emily Richmond contributed to this story.