Republicans Want EV Owners To Pay For America’s Infrastructure Upgrades

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It’s Alice In Wonderland time in America, a time when down is up, black is white, and 2 + 2 = √∞, especially when deciding the outcome of elections. The truth of the matter is, America has spent very little to fix its transportation infrastructure in the past 40 years.

There was a paroxysm of interstate road construction that ended in the 80s. Since then, America has been in “do as little as possible” mode. Patch it up, patch it again, and hope nobody gets killed. Which means those shiny new roads, bridges, and tunnels are now in desperate need of attention.

According to the American Road And Transportation Builders Association, about 220,000 bridges in America are in need of repair or replacement. One third of the bridges on interstate highways fall into that category. ARTBA says it would take 40 years to fix all the bridges that are in need of rehabilitation and would cost $41.8 billion to do so.

Image credit: ARTBA

There is a popular myth that the federal tax on gasoline and diesel fuel pays for maintaining and repairing America’s roads, bridges, and tunnels but nothing could be further from the truth. According to the Tax Foundation:

Nationwide in 2011, highway user fees and user taxes made up just 50.4 percent of state and local expenses on roads. State and local governments spent $153.0 billion on highway, road, and street expenses but raised only $77.1 billion in user fees and user taxes ($12.7 billion in tolls and user fees, $41.2 billion in fuel taxes, and $23.2 billion in vehicle license taxes). The rest was funded by $30 billion in general state and local revenues and $46 billion in federal aid (approximately $28 billion derived from the federal gasoline tax and $18 billion from general federal revenues or deficit financed).

The Biden Administration is proposing to spend $174 billion to “boost the EV market and shift away from gas-powered cars in an effort to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions.” The Republican counteroffer, according to CNBC, is to spend “just $4 billion for electric vehicle infrastructure.” Ford, GM, Volkswagen, and Lincoln are all planning for the day when they no longer sell private passenger vehicles with internal combustion engines.

Hyundai, Kia, Honda, and even Toyota are introducing new battery electric models. Even Subaru and Mazda are joining the EV revolution. Rivian, Canoo, Lucid, and about a dozen other electric-only companies are about to start marketing their vehicles in the US. And then there is the tiny startup from California called Tesla that is selling a few electric cars of its own. Apparently, Republicans don’t believe the party faithful would stoop so low as to drive an electric car even when all the manufacturers and most civilized nations are doing everything possible to make sure they do.

Appearing on Face The Nation last week, Susan Collins, the senior senator from Maine, said users of electric vehicles were “free riders” who should be forced to pay a fee. She added that included in any infrastructure that has support from her party “would be a provision for electric vehicles to pay their fair share of using our roads and bridges. Right now, they are literally free riders because they’re not paying any gas tax.”

Actually, Senator Collins, you are either willfully ignorant or deliberately lying. Even a minor internet scribe like myself can find out in less than a second the last time the federal gas tax was increased was in 1993. Since then, the cost of transportation construction and maintenance has skyrocketed while inflation has reduced the buying power of those tax revenues by about 70%. So to pretend that motorist who purchase gasoline and diesel fuel are paying their “fair share” is, quite simply, untrue.

Collins was elected in 1996 and has never once supported an increase in federal fuel taxes. In fact, she and her colleagues live in fear of any such proposal, knowing the electorate would punish them at the polls if they dared do their sworn duty. Nevertheless, Collins is slobbering at the idea of sticking it to EV owners.

Alternatives To The Gas Tax

There are legitimate reasons why a gas and diesel tax may not be the best way to fund America’s transportation infrastructure. The simplest and fairest way to do it is a use fee based on a combination of weight, fuel economy, and miles driven. The technology to do so is available and some states are testing pilot programs that install mileage trackers in the cars of those who volunteer to participate.

The biggest concern among many drivers is the issue of privacy. They don’t want the government to know where they drive and when. The solution? Simply record the number of miles traveled every year when the registration is renewed. It’s actually a little fatuous to worry about privacy concerns today, when most of the population carries a smartphone in their pockets that records their position 24/7.

China Is In The Lead On Electric Cars

When President Biden went to visit the Ford factory where the F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck will be manufactured, he said, “China had over 800,000 EV charging outlets available for public use installed at the end of 2020, up from 516,000 in 2019 and 300,000 in 2018. In December 2020 alone, China installed 112,000 public charging points — more than the entire U.S. public charging network.” After the event, he tweeted, “Get in folks, we’re going to win the competition for the 21st century.”

Americans have been trained by their political leaders to worry about “energy security.” We have to pump more oil than the Russians and the Saudis in order to keep the freedom we fought innumerable wars for. So why are we willing to cede dominance in electric vehicle manufacturing to China without a fight? Maybe Republicans think we should all just drive hulking SUVs and pickup trucks while the rest of the world switches to zero emissions transportation. American Exceptionalism has worked pretty good so far. Why fix what ain’t broke?

The GOP, which Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts now calls the Gas and Oil Party, has shown time and again they are nothing more than lackeys for the fossil fuel industry. The Southwest is suffering under a massive heat dome, forest fires are raging, and 40 million Americans are in danger of running out of water?

“Piffle,” Collins and her colleagues say. Drill, Baby, Drill! And gut punch anyone who says differently with exorbitant new taxes. Progress is just a commie pinko, liberal plot to undermine America. But have no fear, Collins and company are on guard, ready to make America great again by rolling back the clock to the good old days when Herbert Hoover was in the White House. It’s hard to practice leadership when your eyes are always fixed on the view in the rear view mirror.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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