The Seattle Times, which has recently editorialized against nearly every single state tax increase, no matter the size, and no matter the purpose, even to save uninsured children from death and disease, because now is not the time to burden families and businesses with new taxes... has finally had a change of heart:
ELECTRIC-car owners should pay an annual fee in lieu of gasoline taxes to help maintain Washington roads and highways.
Legislation in Olympia would levy a $100 fee when an electric car is registered, and collect it again when car tabs are renewed.
Because, you know, if we're going to use our state tax code to disincentivize any economic activity, it might as well be the looming shift to all-electric vehicles. In fact, they appear to be so gung-ho in favor of this "fee," that the same editors who warned against appeals to "class warfare" when railing against both the estate tax and the high-earners income tax, subtly resort to exactly that tactic in advocating that we stick it to the EV elite.
A $100 fee is not onerous and hardly a credible deterrent to buying a $40,000 car, before the federal tax incentives.
Get that? Business taxes drive businesses out of state. A high-earners income tax would drive the wealthy out of state. But a tax on electric cars couldn't possibly have any impact on the sale of electric cars. And besides, it's only wealthy, tree-hugging fat cats who can afford to blow their cash on a $40,000 electric vehicle, so they can afford the extra hundred bucks a year.
Except, for the life of me, I can't figure out where they get that $40,000 figure....
As rhetorically useful as that $40,000 threshold might be, the actual bill, SB 5252, applies the $100 fee to vehicles that use "propulsion units powered solely by electricity," and the only remotely mass market vehicle that meets that definition today is the $32,780 MSRP Nissan Leaf (the much touted Chevy Volt utilizes a backup gasoline engine, which appears to exempt it from the fee). Throw in the $7,500 federal tax credit, and the cost of buying a new Leaf drops to an affordable $25,280. That's actually $4,000 less than the $29,217 average, US new-car purchase price in 2010.
Yeah... stick it to the man!
Furthermore, the bill's fiscal note estimates only about 5,000 total registrations during the entire 2011-13 biennium netting less than $500,000 for state coffers. And even that estimate seems optimistic, considering Nissan is struggling to meet its goal of delivering 25,000 vehicles to the entire US market by the end of 2011.
So here's a better idea: if we really need additional highway funds, and if the Seattle Times is truly sincere when it argues that "a $100 fee is not onerous and hardly a credible deterrent to buying a $40,000 car," then how about we levy a flat $100 fee on all cars valued over $40,000? After all, many of these pricier vehicles tend to be bigger and heavier than the lightweight, small-wheeled Leaf, and thus do more damage per mile to our roads.
Wouldn't that make a lot more sense than punishing eco-conscious consumers for choosing to emit less carbon? The Seattle Times editors make a big point of looking to Victoria, B.C., Texas and Oregon for "brainstorming" on the issue. In that spirit, it might be informative to point out that, rather than penalizing early EV adaptors, some states actually offer tax incentives—up to $5,000 in Georgia and California, $1,500 in neighboring Oregon.
At some point in the future, when electric vehicles eventually gain significant market share, state lawmakers will have to find alternatives to the gas tax to help fund highway construction and maintenance. But according to OFM, that point is way in the future, with the EV fee only projected to bring in a paltry $1.9 million in the 2021 fiscal year.
But for now, my suggestion to the Seattle Times' editorial board is, "in the middle of a tough recession," rather than wasting precious time on a bill that can't pass and won't bring in much money, you should be urging lawmakers to "stick to serious business" and "stop dithering."