Bill to tax electric vehicles would take Maine down the wrong road
The state of Maine should be doing everything it can to promote the use of electric vehicles, because zero-emission transportation is an important part of combating man-made climate change, especially when combined with clean power sources such as solar and wind. Instead, we offer no state-level incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles, our charging infrastructure is far behind that of other neighboring states, and now some lawmakers have proposed a bill that would further impede the mass-adoption of electric vehicles.
This bill, LD 1149, does this by imposing a surcharge of $200 for all electric and hybrid vehicles. The reasoning behind this is because our state’s roads need maintenance and some people have shifted their attention to electric vehicles, which currently do not pay road tax.
Hybrid and electric vehicles represent just over 1% of vehicles in the state of Maine and as of November, 2015 less than 200 of those were fully electric. If the goal is to raise more money for road repairs there are much more obvious places to start than by penalizing an extremely small minority of drivers who are trying to do the right thing by reducing or completely eliminating their use of fossil fuels for transportation. The fact of the matter is that if you want to fairly distribute the cost of road maintenance then vehicle weight should be the main focus. Numerous studies have shown that a single 40,000 pound truck does as much damage to a paved roads as roughly 10,000 cars. Our current road tax system obviously doesn’t account for this because the last time I checked diesel fuel is not taxed at a rate that is 10,000 times higher than gasoline. This is essentially a subsidy for large commercial trucks, and one that is astronomically greater than the amount of money the state is missing out on because of electric vehicles not paying road tax.
Imposing a flat fee on hybrid and electric vehicles is not fair for drivers like myself who typically drive only about 5,000 miles per year. Assuming that the fuel tax is increased to 36.5 cents per gallon, as proposed by this bill, and that I’m driving a typical gasoline-powered vehicle with an average fuel economy of 30 miles per gallon, I would be paying about $60 in state road tax each year. However, because I drive an electric car, I would actually have to pay $200 in tax if this bill is passed.
My opposition to this bill is not based solely on the potential money that I would lose in my own personal situation. Nor is it based only on the devastating impacts to our environment if we fail to transition to a cleaner form of transportation. Rather, I oppose this bill out of principle because it would not solve the very problem that it sets out to solve, that of funding the repair of our crumbling state road system in a fair and balanced way.
What’s needed is a system-wide redesign starting from scratch. This new tax system should not only consider the wear on our roads but also the wear on our environment and on our health. We can no longer afford to ignore the so-called externalities of our fossil fuel addiction. A vehicle that causes more damage to the road because it weighs more, contributes to global warming more because it emits more CO2, and causes more air-quality related health issues because it uses a dirtier fuel, should naturally be taxed at a higher rate than a lighter and cleaner vehicle. This is a more complex solution than a simple flat rate fee on electric vehicles but it’s also a complex problem.
I urge our lawmakers to drop all plans for any band-aid solutions to this obviously far-reaching problem and instead focus on designing and vetting a system that is fair and equitable for the current and future generations of Mainers.
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