Electric car owners are being targeted by politicians with new fees, because by definition they pay no gasoline taxes to help maintain the transportation infrastructure. Who should pay to maintain America’s roads, bridges, and tunnels is a question that should be easy to answer. In an ideal world, a budget to build and maintain our transportation infrastructure would be established.
Once the total amount is known, a fee would be assessed on every vehicle based on two factors — the number of miles driven and the weight of the vehicle. Each month, vehicle owners would get a bill for their share of the costs. If the bill is not paid in a timely fashion, the vehicle would be disabled automatically via the internet.
Admittedly, such a system assumes a quantum leap in government surveillance over every vehicle in America — where it goes and when — and that may bother some people. Yet oddly enough, nobody seems to mind that Facebook, Google, and Amazon are already tracking us every second of every day if we have a smartphone. From an economic point of view, it is a highly rational approach, one that assesses fees based on actual usage.
Gas Taxes Are Obsolete
The original idea behind state and federal taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel was similar to the ideal system suggested above. In theory, paying a few cents per gallon to help maintain the roads would have a similar effect. If you use more fuel, you pay more. Heavier vehicles use more fuel than lighter ones, so the system magically ups the ante for the vehicles that use the most fuel. It’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty good approximation of a system that spreads the burden fairly among all motorists.
At least it did until politicians got involved and screwed everything up. People hate paying taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel. Older folks may remember when thousands of truckers descended on Washington, DC in December, 1973 to protest proposed increase in fuel taxes. Unlike the rest of the world, Americans seem to believe they have a God-given right to cheap gasoline and diesel. Increasing the federal fuel taxes a few cents always leads to howls of protest. As a result, they have stayed pretty much the same for decades, while the cost of maintaining America’s roads, bridges, and tunnels has soared.
With the good folks in Congress siphoning money from the Highway Trust Fund to pay for their own pet projects, the amount of federal money available to the states for infrastructure maintenance has gone down, down, down. The states are also scared to death to raise taxes on fuel, so their own transportation budgets are stretched to the maximum. What to do?
Senator Huey Long had some insight on this topic. “Don’t tax you. Don’t tax me. Tax that fellow behind the tree,” he advised. Now some states have decided to do exactly that by raising fees on electric cars. Since there are few EVs on the road, electric car owners don’t have enough political power to resist and besides, everybody knows only wealthy people can afford electric cars, so why shouldn’t they pay a little more?
Washington Slaps Electric Car Owners With New Fee
The state of Washington is leading the “tax the electric cars” charge with new legislation that would boost the annual registration fee for electric cars from $150 to $350. As GeekWire explains it, “The tax is assessed at a flat rate on all-electric cars, from a fully tricked-out $125,000 Tesla Model X to a $6,000 used Nissan LEAF.” Clearly, this is meant as retribution against people who dare to drive all electric cars.
Okay, drivers of all electric cars pay no gas taxes at all. Surely they should contribute something to maintain the roads they drive on, right? Of course, but as CleanTechnica reader Tim Ellis points out in an e-mail, a gasoline-powered car that gets about 30 mpg would have to drive more than 21,000 miles a year to pay the same amount in gas taxes as an EV owner under the new fee scheme. Since the average number of miles driven by a private vehicle in Washington is less than 10,000 miles a year according to GeekWire, electric car drivers in that state will be forced to pay much more than their fair share to maintain the roads.
One justification for the higher fees is that electric cars have big, heavy batteries and all that weight wears out highways more than conventional cars do. But does that argument withstand scrutiny? The average midsize sedan weighs 3,351 pounds, according to Credit Monkey, but who drives a midsize sedan anymore? Ford, GM, and Chrysler have virtually stopped making them. The typical SUV weighs 4,799 pounds, the average minivan weighs 4,437 pounds and the the average pickup truck weighs 4,710 pounds.
A Nissan LEAF and a Chevy Bolt weigh just over 3,500 pounds. The Tesla Model 3 tips the scales at less than 4,000 pounds. A fully equipped Model X weighs 5,500 lbs, only 700 pounds more than the average SUV. So the “electric cars are so heavy they are wearing out our roads more quickly and should pay more” argument looks like yet another specious hypothesis cooked up by the fossil fuel industry and traditional automakers to bash electric cars. In fact, drivers of SUVs are mostly responsible for more rapid deterioration of highways if weight is a significant factor.
Nebraska & Iowa Join In
The state of Nebraska is also considering raising fees on electric cars, but its proposal is more modest. According to Channel 6 News in Omaha, it wants to raise the current registration fee for alternative fuel cars from $75 to $125 in gradual steps over a five-year period. But once again, it is based on a formula that has no actual basis in reality.
A bill in the Iowa legislature would impose an annual fee of $130, according to KMA News. Some would like it to be higher, but Michael Triplett, a lobbyist for the Automobile Manufacturers Association, urged legislators not to set the fee higher than what electric car owners are paying in neighboring states. “This is the future. These are drivers currently who are little bit wiser in their use of their car and it sounds to some of our members like they’re being punished for choosing the most economical, environmentally-friendly option,” he said.
Ashley Hinson, a Republican from Marion, said more electric vehicles will be on the road in Iowa soon. At present, there are 800 electric-only cars and 1,999 plug-in hybrids registered in the state. “We need to be making these decisions so the infrastructure is in place, so we’re ready for that,” Hinson said during a House subcommittee meeting on the issue.
That’s a load of bollocks, Representative Hinson, and you know it. Legislatures at the state and federal level have been terrified of taking the action necessary to adequately maintain the nation’s transportation infrastructure for the past 50 years. Why start now? Oh, because EV owners are a small group with little political power. That explains it.
The idea of an annual fee for EVs is not unreasonable. As long as governments adhere to the obsolete idea of using gas taxes to raise the money needed to keep the transportation infrastructure from crumbling, some way should be found to ensure that EV drivers pay their fair share. But don’t go wrapping yourself in a lot of codswallop about doing the right thing when doing the right thing is something you and your predecessors have refused to do longer than most Americans have been alive. Spare us the sanctimonious malarkey. Please.
Here’s a helpful chart from the National Conference of State Legislatures that shows which US states have enacted EV registration fees.
The message here is that EV owners are a target of feckless politicians who will use any trick in the book in order to increase revenue without appearing to raise taxes. Good policy and politics are often at odds with each other. The EV community needs to be aware that it has become a political target. To paraphrase Huey Long, “Don’t tax you. Don’t tax me. Tax that EV owner behind the tree.”