TOLL REBATES:Massachusetts, New York and France
By Peter Samuel
A brochure recently put out states the principle: Under Massachusetts General laws motorists and commercial motor carriers who consume fuel while traveling on the Massachusetts Turnpike are generally entitled to a reimbursement of any Massachusetts fuel excise paid that corresponds to actual Turnpike use. For example if you purchase gasoline in Massachusetts and have 100 miles of Massachusetts Turnpike usage weekly, you are eligible for reimbursement of the Massachusetts fuel excise paid for those 100 miles. (A Guide to the Massachusetts Turnpike Fuel Excise Refund Program Department of Revenue, Boston MA, 1999, p2.)
Between 300 and 400 claims have been made each year in recent years with the refund costing about $2 million, a tiny amount compared to the eligible amount and in relation to $180 million paid in tolls. But the department says electronic tolling has already encouraged more people to file claims because the monthly Turnpike statements document their trips more conveniently than requesting and collecting individual toll tickets and receipts. (Patrick OMahony, Mass Department of Revenue, 9/21/00 in a memo in response to questions lodged with the press office.)
Still the claiming of refunds in Massachusetts is a daunting task. Claims can only be made semi-annually or annually. Individual motorists must fill out claims forms. They must submit with the claim forms gas station receipts proving they bought fuel in Massachusetts three days before travel on the Turnpike, and they must submit documentation of tolls paid. The refund may be offset by a 5 percent use tax and any receipts must be deducted from the cost of fuel claimed in income tax filings. Payment of the refund to claimants can take many months.
New York state tax law provides that trucks are not liable to pay the regular state weight-distance truck tax when they are on the state Thruway toll road. The tax is 5c/mile on free roads for a standard 5-axle tractor-trailer of 80,000 pounds. Exemption goes quite a long way to offset the toll, which for the same Class 5 truck is 12c/mile.
The New York State Thruway Authority would like the state to make the state fuel (diesel for trucks) tax of 23c/gal rebatable for travel on the Thruway also, as occurs in Massachusetts. At 8 miles/gallon fuel consumption this is 3c/mile. This would bring cost of truck travel on the Thruway within 4c/mile of the cost of tolls (12c toll minus 5c weight-distance tax forgone minus 3c/mile diesel fuel tax equals 4c/mile over the cost of travel on a non-toll road.) The New York state diesel tax is not however dedicated to use on the roads, unlike the weight-distance tax, and a trucking industry official says political resistance to the proposal is likely to be strong. (Bill Joyce New York Motor Truck Assoc)
In France miles traveled on toll roads count as a rebate against an axle-weight tax that applies to trucks over 16 metric tons. The axle-tax is dedicated to financing the upkeep of non-tolled roads and it has always been a key feature of the tax that travel on toll roads entitles the toll patron to a per-km rebate. Trucking companies get a monthly bill which details kilometers traveled, which is accepted by the finance ministry as documentation of claims for rebates.
One way to overcome the administrative difficulty would be to give the toll road operators the power to submit bulk claims of rebates on behalf of their customers. Their toll equipment already counts trips, classifies every vehicle by number of axles, weight and so forth. Trips are of a known distance, so distance traveled can be computed. The toll operators should have the power to submit rebate claims based on average fuel consumption per vehicle class and hence average highway user taxes paid in place of cumbersome individual filings for refunds. They could then apply the rebates against toll rates. (Contacts Patrick OMahoney, Mass Tax 617 626 2251, Bill Joyce, NY Motor Truck Assoc 518 458 9696, Robert Garin, Egis 619 338 8385)