Do electric cars pay their fair road share?

This is cute: A Utah lawmaker (cliick) says electric/hybrid vehicles don’t buy enough gasoline, so they aren’t paying their fair share of road taxes. He’s suggesting a special fee.

That’s interesting considering this bunch’s dismissive attitude toward new taxes, but I can actually see his argument. Utah made the mistake of linking funding for roads to a tax added to the price of gasoline, and then idiotically neglected to make the tax a percentage of the price of the gasoline so it would automatically adjust for inflation. Instead, the state collects the same old boring flat rate whether gasoline costs $1 a gallon or $10.

They did this originally back in pre-history when all cars got 17 miles per gallon and gasoline sold for 30 cents a gallon. The current tax is 24.5 cents per gallon. Compressed Natural Gas is 8.5 cents per gallon — another fee target?

Problem is, as gasoline edges up to $5 a gallon, people naturally want to use less of it, so hybrid vehicles are suddenly popular. This switch to conservation is threatening funding for road projects.

Since our dependence on gasoline is ruining our country by making us slaves to Saudi Arabia, we ought to be encouraging people to use less, not figuring out ways to punish them once they do.

So, my first thinking is, of course “so build fewer roads and let people use mass transit,” but that’s too easy, and doesn’t keep contractors happy. Contractors are huge campaign doners. It also doesn’t pay for maintenance of the roads we have.

So, here’s my idea: Ditch the per-gallon tax we charge now, and instead tax vehicles based on their weight. Trucks already are taxed this way, so it would be simple enough to extend it to cars. Just figure out how much we need to raise every year, calculate the manufacturer’s weight of all the 1.7 million cars on Utah’s roads, do some simple “price-per-pound” math, and there you are.

This would let car drivers see, in one nice tidy lump, how much their share of the state’s road maintenance and building really is.

(How much is it? Using the current gas tax, my car, driven 10,000 miles a year, getting 24 mpg, paying 24.5 cents per gallon, pays $98. Being almost, sort of mid-sized, I might end up paying more.)

Hybrid vehicles would still  be at an advantage here, because hybrid cars weigh less to keep mileage up. But that’s OK, because lighter cars do less road damage than heavier ones do. This would also be another incentive — apparently $100 fillups aren’t enough — for people who own big ugly pickup trucks to finally downsize.

Yes, yes, I know: Who am I to tell you that you can’t have a big ugly pickup truck?

Not saying that at all. Just saying if you have one you should pay the true costs to the roads of owning one, just as people who buy light vehicles will be able to benefit by paying less. Do you think my road taxes should fund your big truck? What are you, a socialist or something?

Doing away with the tax at the pump would also have the added advantage — if you want to call it that — of  making Utah gasoline immediately 24.5 cents a gallon cheaper.  For a few days, people would be happier.

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18 Responses to Do electric cars pay their fair road share?

  1. Dan S. says:

    The problem with this scheme is that taxes each vehicle the same amount whether it’s driven 2000 miles a year or 20,000 miles a year. The gas tax has the advantage of being based on the amount a vehicle is used. Ideally we would have both a gas tax and a weight-based annual registration fee.

    By the way, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that hybrid cars weigh less. In fact, they probably weigh a little more, thanks to the batteries, despite their smaller engines.

  2. Owain says:

    Charles, I know you’d love an opportinity to gouge the taxpayers yet again to pay for whatever socialist boondoggle you have in mind, but the gas tax was designed that way on purpose, so that it would remain relatively constant based on the number of gallons purchased rather than the fluctuating gas sales price. It’s a use tax, not a sales tax.

    The intent of the gasoline tax is to provide a predictable source of tax revenue based on the number of gallons sold, which remains reasonably stable, rather than basing the tax on the market price of gasoline, which as we have seen, can fluctuate wildly.

    Electric cars throw a wrench into that plan, since although they do still use the roads which results in wear and tear that the gasoline tax is meant to be used to correct, if you buy no gas, you pay no tax. I don’t think drivers of electric cars should get a pass on helping support the maintenance of the roads drivers use, so I would support a new tax levied on drivers of electric or hybrid vehicles that would match the tax they would have paid otherwise through the gasoline tax. Either that, or change the way everyone is taxed based on he number of miles they drive, which would require some sort of GPS tracking device, which I would not particularly be happy about. I think the gas tax with a separate additional tax for electric/hybrid vehicles is the way to gl.

    And if you think about it Charles, which of course, you haven’t, the gas tax as currently designed already makes drivers of gas hogs pay more than the person who drives a more efficient vehicle. If you drive a Vespa motor scooter that reportedly gets 100 miles per gallon, you will pay FAR less in taxes than the guy driving a HUMVEE that maybe gets 10 mpg. (Hint: the Vespa owner pays 1/10 the taxes the HUMVEE owner pays per mile driven).

    I know, it was your understanding there would be no math, but a little bit of math goes a long way to keeping your arguments coherent. Try it sometime.

    • neal cassidy says:

      What about the bike riders who use the roads? How about joggers and walkers who use the roadway? How much wear and tear is caused on city streets by the Ogden marathon? It almost seems like a punishment to those who try to economize.

      • Owain says:

        If you can figure out the impact cyclists or joggers have on road maintenance, I’m sure there is someone somewhere who’d love to impose a tax on it. I suspect the impact is trivial, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for Charles.

        Regardless of whether people buying electrics are trying to economize or not, their vehicles have an equal impact on road maintenance as gas vehicles have, so electric/hybrid owners should also equally contribute to paying for that maintenance.

  3. ctrentelman says:

    i think owain is absolutely correct — we should all pay to provide roads, but I’m puzzled how we should do that if we do not institute some sort of — what’s the word — fee? emolument? revenue ehancement?

    Or tax. You want to tax my bicycle in a way that is fair as to its impact and needs, go for it. I’m happy to pay my fair share as long as everyone else is as well.

    • Owain says:

      Straw man, Charles. Conservatives are not against all taxes, but we would like the taxes that are levied to be fair. A use tax for electric car owners would be fair, in that they use the roads just like gas car owners do.

      The federal income tax, however, would be an example of an unfair tax in that over 50% of Americans pay no income taxes, and of that 50%, many actually RECEIVE money under the Earned Income Tax Credit program instead of paying taxes. A program instituted with the best of intentions, I’m sure, but one that I’m not sure we can afford any longer.

      • Michael Trujillo says:

        That’s factually inaccurate. I know plenty of “Conservatives” are are opposed to ALL taxes. They won’t be happy until all taxes are done away with. Funny that you’d presume to speak for all “Conservatives”.

        • hawg says:

          funny that you would presume the “conservatives” you know speak for all conservatives

          • Michael Trujillo says:

            Where did I say they spoke for all conservatives? I’m merely pointing out that this guy (Owain?) misspeaks. It’s funny that so many people never admit they mis-stated something. However, based on his response, this guy is one of those people who believes he’s never wrong and the rest of us are idiots for not clearly “getting” what he meant.

            The level of discourse on the S.E. website is appalling.

        • Owain says:

          In every group, sure, you’ll have a small percentage that will not budge on a point. Given 100 conservatives, however, I suspect that a large majority of them would agree that some level of taxation is required to keep things running, so I think my point is still valid, and your point is irrelevant.

          • Owain says:

            To Michael Trujillo: I’ll agree to amend and revise my remarks to read “A vast majority of Conservatives are not against ALL taxes…” if you agree to amend your comment “The level of discourse on the S.E. website is appalling.” to read instead, “Not nearly enough people around here agree with me.”

            That WAS the intent of that whine, was it not?

  4. hawg says:

    Micheal, really? you don’t see the irony / connection?
    oh well, how does one explain the blindingly obvious

  5. Stephen M. Cook says:

    It is disengenuous, and frankly obvious, when people paint everything as a conservative v. liberal issue.
    All roads should be built and maintained at the absolute highest level of quality, and everyone in the country, driver or no, should pay an equal share. It is essential infrastructure, and is the price we all should pay for living in high tech world.

    I am not sure, however, Mr. T even drives a car, judging by the medium size gaggle of young bike riders this afternoon, many coasting stop signs to keep up with the leader. ;>

    • ctrentelman says:

      Mr. Cook,

      On Youth Impact rides, I lead and John Stewart (Lt. Col. USAF ret.) rides sweep. All the kids stop at all the stop signs because they’re behind me and I stop at all the stop signs and look behind me to make sure they’re with me. Nobody goes until I make sure it is safe for everyone to go.

      Instead of kibitzing, get out of your car and come ride and help. Those kids will amaze you.

  6. Owain says:

    “…many coasting stop signs to keep up with the leader.”

    That behavior tends to be self regulating in that it frequently causes the rider to become a Darwin Award recipient. Same goes for people who insist on riding motorcycles without helmets.

    “All roads should be built and maintained at the absolute highest level of quality, and everyone in the country, driver or no, should pay an equal share.”

    Then you’ll love this morning’s editorial in the dead tree version of the paper (not available online yet for some reason) saying that electric care buyers should be exempted from road use taxes to ‘encourage’ environmentally fueled vehicles.

    I figure, if you want to buy an electric vehicle, that’s your choice, but you should help pay for road upkeep just like the rest of us. I certainly don’t want to have to subsidize you.

  7. Stephen M. Cook says:

    It sure looked like a good time. And thanks for the invite.
    I was joshing about the stop signs; as you pointed out, most everyone was helmeted, you were riding on the right side of the road, the stop signs on Lincoln were being observed, and again, it was one smiling bunch of kids.

  8. If the issue is the usage of the roads, just make all the roads toll roads. Problem solved. Everyone pays their fair share, no matter what they’re driving.

    Of course, the politicians are really trying to protect the interest of their constituents (oil companies), but if they’re going to frame it as a “usage” issue, the problem is addressed by charging for use, not fuel.

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