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License tabs going up

Expect some confusion at the DMV when you go to renew your vehicle license next year. Oregon is shifting to a mileage-based fee schedule.

If you think you’ll pay more if you drive a gas-guzzler, think again. The lowest-mileage vehicles will pay the least, and owners of high-mileage hybrids and electric vehicles will pay the most.

That might sound counter-intuitive, especially with all the talk about reducing emissions to combat climate change, but it actually makes sense, as in dollars and cents.

As cars and light trucks steadily have gotten more fuel-efficient, now including zero-emission electric vehicles that also use zero gallons of gas, the gas-tax money flowing into the state’s highway fund has slowed. Owners of high-mileage vehicles aren’t paying their fair share of the cost of maintaining the roads we all use.

Starting Jan. 1, owners of vehicles with mileage ratings of 19 miles per gallon or less will pay $244 for four years or $122 for two years. If your vehicle gets 20 to 39 mpg, you’ll pay $264 for four years ($66 a year). If your car gets 40-plus mpg, the four-year fee is $304. Electric-vehicle owners will pay $612 for four years.

There is an option for owners of high-mileage vehicles. If you enroll in the OReGo program that charges you based on the miles you drive rather than the gas you buy, your tabs will cost just $172 for four years. Participants in OReGo who do buy gas get the gas taxes rebated.

The mileage-based system isn’t perfect, but the new fees are an attempt to make sure everyone who uses public roads contributes to their construction and maintenance.