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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Lawmakers Blow Opportunity to Rethink the Way We Fund Our Roads

Posted by on Wed, Dec 26, 2012 at 6:00 AM

So let's say somebody invented a new kind of car that runs entirely on water. It's an expensive new technology, so these water-fueled cars cost a bit more than their gasoline-fueled cousins, and they don't go quite as far on a full tank. But they produce zero greenhouse gas emissions, and, well, they run on fucking water! Amazing!

You'd think, what with Antarctica warming even faster than the most dire projections, if this miraculous water-fueled car existed, our lawmakers would do everything they could to incentivize its widespread adoption, right? Subsidies, tax credits, whatever it takes. Well, you'd think wrong.

In fact, this water-fueled car does exist, sorta, at least here in Washington, where all-electric vehicles are fueled predominantly by clean, green hydro power—92.39% hydro for Seattle City Light customers—and yet, rather than incentivizing their use, our legislature last session passed a bill charging all-electric vehicle owners a $100 annual fee to make up for lost gas tax revenues. Which, I gotta say, is just plain stupid.

Yes, the gas tax pays for road maintenance, and yes, electric cars use the roads like everybody else. But they don't generate the same sort of external costs as their gas-fueled cousins, and with only about 1,600 of them currently registered in the state, the additional revenue is barely worth the effort of collecting it. It's just hard to see the value of levying this particular fee at this particular time.

And it's also hard to see this as anything but a missed opportunity to reconsider our whole antiquated and regressive system of financing road construction and maintenance. If the goal is to make electric car owners pay their fair share, then we should scrap our current gas tax and car tabs, and replace them with an annual fee based on a combination of mileage and vehicle weight, a much more accurate measure of the wear and tear each driver exacts on our roads.

That would be the more creative, progressive, and farsighted approach to the question of how to fund our highway system in this era of rising fuel economy.

Instead, we punted on the larger issue and just imposed an arbitrary $100 a year per electric car, a number that appears to be based on absolutely nothing (drive your electric car 4,000 miles a year or 40,000, and you pay the same fee) and that amounts to little more than a fuel economy tax.

Now where's the sense in that?

 

Comments (33) RSS

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1
I can not begin to explain how excited I am for the return of the full slogging crew.
Posted by caltrop_head on December 26, 2012 at 6:19 AM · Report this
gttim 2
In general, gas tax and user fees usually pay for about 1/3 of road construction and maintenance. The rest comes from general funds. Vehicle weight and mileage, which you mention, are good ways to tax for roads, and actually gas taxes do a semi-decent job of allocating those. Both have large impacts on wear and tear. A small fee for electric cars wold not be a bad thing, if it were as small as the wear and tear they inflict on the roads. Raising the gas tax too fully fund the roads would be a great additional step! That way trucks automobiles would no longer be getting a free ride at the expense of tax payer in general.
Posted by gttim on December 26, 2012 at 6:30 AM · Report this
3
The $100/year tax on all-electric cars is equivalent to the revenue generated by someone buying 5.12 gallons of gasoline each week -- a very modest amount, and less than what this Prius driver buys at the gas pump each week.

Yes, in an ideal world, the Legislature would've taken this opportunity to totally revamp the way we calculate motor vehicle taxes, but that's a world we don't live in. Right now, among all the tax dilemmas faced by the Legislature, education funding is way at the top.
Posted by Citizen R on December 26, 2012 at 6:36 AM · Report this
4
Now you see one of the reasons why Mary Margaret lost her seat - she never met an environmental policy she didn't like (facts were never persuasive.) So, why should grassroots folks pull out the stops to defend her seat? They didn't, she didn't survive and the Senate majority hasn't either

She knew at the time that this tax didn't raise enough revenue to fix more than two potholes a year.
Posted by Fluffy on December 26, 2012 at 8:16 AM · Report this
5
A car that actually runs on water, the way most cars run on gasoline, would be an environmental catastrophe. There's a lot more water than gas, sure, but it's still a limited resource.
Posted by jzimbert on December 26, 2012 at 8:23 AM · Report this
6
@3 Also, somebody who can afford to spend over $100,000 for a Tesla roadster, or even $30,000-$40,000 for a low end electric vehicle, can probably pay a $100 per year car tax w/o much trouble. Things can be wrong w/o being important.
Posted by Ken Mehlman on December 26, 2012 at 8:24 AM · Report this
Goldy 7
@1 If you're unhappy with the product, you should demand your money back.

@6 The fact that the policy is wrong is entirely the point. We're at the beginning of a major shift toward more fuel efficient and alternative fuel vehicles, and the legislature responds by imposing a an arbitrary flat per vehicle tax. Given the history of our state's tax system, that's a precedent that will likely set the pattern for dealing with declining highway funds in the future.
Posted by Goldy on December 26, 2012 at 9:03 AM · Report this
8
@4 oops - of course I meant to say that Mary Margaret Haugen never met an environmental policy she liked!
Posted by Fluffy on December 26, 2012 at 9:10 AM · Report this
You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me 9
I thought "Hydro power" was 100% fueled by dead salmon...?
Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me on December 26, 2012 at 9:45 AM · Report this
10
As a Volt owner, I have to say that if you can afford an electric car right now, you can afford to pay $100/year to help upkeep the roads you're driving on. A $100/year fee seems stupid (and one wonders what percentage has to go to pay for the administration required to levy/collect the fee) but it isn't going to break today's electric car owner. Here's hoping for the day electric cars are cheap to buy.
Posted by Alice Dreger http://www.alicedreger.com on December 26, 2012 at 9:47 AM · Report this
TVDinner 11
We are nowhere near facing the truth about how expensive our transportation system is to maintain. Legislators have received report after report detailing the funding challenges of depending on the gas tax, and they do this? Come the fuck on. It's time to have some hard conversations and come up with some long-term solutions. You know, the ones that involve more public transit, active transit, and less VMT.

The public is ready for this. All the trends and polling indicate that people grasp the need for substantive reform to our transportation system and funding, yet our chickenshit elected officials are still held hostage to the older generation's car-at-the-expense-of-every-other-mode mentality. It's maddening.
Posted by TVDinner http:// on December 26, 2012 at 9:57 AM · Report this
Beetlecat 12
How about a license fee for bicycles? What pays for all the re-striping and sharrows everywhere? ;D
Posted by Beetlecat on December 26, 2012 at 10:26 AM · Report this
13
Our electric car is cheaper than the 10-year old Ford Explorer we traded in. The monthly lease for a 2012 Nissan Leaf costs less than the gas we used, even including the [estimated] $35/month for electricity, and the government made the charger almost free. So an electric car doesn't mean "extra disposable income" necessarily.
Posted by BenY on December 26, 2012 at 10:28 AM · Report this
watchout5 14
@6

I envision a world where there's such thing as a $1000 electric car. The state wants to tax that car 10% yet tesla roadster people get the same $100 fee? That's just fucking stupid. At least have the number based on something. Engine size? Street value? Miles driven? Anything? This isn't about who can afford what, it's about charging people the correct amount for what we see as their use of societies resources.
Posted by watchout5 http://www.overclockeddrama.com on December 26, 2012 at 10:28 AM · Report this
MrBaker 15
I do not agree with Goldy, he's having an argument from 2002. Mileage standards are changing dramatically and people have to get used to the idea that roads cost money.
Even the guzzling trucks that got 18 mpg now get 24, when they get to 36, what then, Goldy?

At some point in the recent past existing methods to collect money to fund roads and transit will reach a point of resistance. Failing to address how to pay for this stuff now is stupid.

And Goldy, just because you prefer to incentivize this because you prefer it doesn't make it any better than some of the shit Republicans insist on incentivizing.
Shall we pull money out of the state general fund to make up the difference so you can feed your pet?

I don't think so.
Posted by MrBaker http://manywordsforrain.blogspot.com/ on December 26, 2012 at 10:28 AM · Report this
MrBaker 16
Sales tax on tires should be double or triple the base state sales tax.
It's where the rubber hits the road, and big truck tires pay for the greater damage to roads.
Posted by MrBaker http://manywordsforrain.blogspot.com/ on December 26, 2012 at 10:34 AM · Report this
Goldy 17
@15, Actually, it sounds like you do largely agree with me.
Posted by Goldy on December 26, 2012 at 10:41 AM · Report this
rob! 18
Whether by "mileage" you mean annual miles driven or rated fuel economy, trying to tax either one directly would create new incentives for fraud and abuse—odometer tampering in the first case and legislative/regulatory tampering in the second.

Both, plus vehicle weight, are pretty neatly and inviolably accounted for by the fuel tax, which needs to be a lot higher but doesn't require additional bureaucracy.

Worry about electrics when they exceed 10% or so of automobile registrations.
Posted by rob! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZBdUceCL5U on December 26, 2012 at 10:43 AM · Report this
schmacky 19
Jesus, thanks for writing this, Goldy. I've been stewing about this for days. The electric car biz is still a nascent industry with a lot of people sitting on the fence. We should be doing everything we possibly can to incentivize it, not nickel-and-diming with arbitrarily determined fees.
Posted by schmacky on December 26, 2012 at 10:57 AM · Report this
kk in seattle 20
Goldy, really, this tops the list of stupid. Replacing the gas tax with an annual fee, regardless of what it's based on, is a prescription for complete disaster.

We used to have a hefty annual fee known as the MVET. (It was the replacement for the property tax on cars.) Then Tim Eyman got it repealed. (The Legislature should have known that was coming, since a similar tax was repealed in Virginia a couple of years earlier.) Why do people, and voters in particular, hate an annual fee? Because most folks don't notice it when they pay a couple of extra bucks each week in gas tax. When you make them pony up $1500 or $2000 all at once they freak. You may not have noticed, but most of us live paycheck to paycheck. We don't save an extra hundred dollars or so each month just to satisfy the ill-informed musings of efficiency theorists.

And what happens after the Son-of-MVET is repealed and there's no gas tax?
Posted by kk in seattle on December 26, 2012 at 11:49 AM · Report this
21
Two probems with Goldy's latest scheme. First, it's illogical. Second, it's probably illegal. I'd mention a third problem, that it's grossly unfair, but when did the phony hypocrite known as the Seattle "progressive" ever give a shit about being fair to anyone?

It's illogical because the only vehicle damage done to pavement worthy of note is done by heavy trucks and buses. Bicycles, cars, and light trucks do no pavement damage. Ask any highway engineer. He'll explain the equations.

The difference between the weight of a bicycle, a car, and an SUV on a city street is akin to the difference between a fly, a sparrow, and a squirrel on a heavy tree branch. Only buses and heavy trucks do vehicle-related pavement damage. Virtually all other (non-vehicle) pavement damage is done by weather and utility crews.

Therefore, a weight-based system isn't logical, because vehicle weight has no relationship to maintenance issues. If that was going to be the basis for fees, then semitrucks and buses should be the only vehicles paying any road use fees.

The legality of a mileage-based fee is related to where the vehicles are driven. For the time being, given the battery ranges, EVs are driven almost exclusively in state. So a mileage fee on them would make sense. But for other vehicles, you have a big issue if Washington taxes miles driven in Oregon and California. I'm not a lawyer, but I bet the courts would have a field day with that whole idea.

Finally, as fairness is concerned, the only vehicles authorized to use the streets that are not taxes as vehicles are the Holy Bicycles. Seattle's freeloading, car-hating hypocritical "progressives" are fine with that, because fairness or equity never has, and never will, have anything to do with their concept of government.
More...
Posted by Mister G on December 26, 2012 at 1:13 PM · Report this
22
#13, please give us the long division. I own an EV and I am very skeptical that your gas savings net of the cost of the electricity for your battery are paying for your lease.
Posted by Mister G on December 26, 2012 at 1:42 PM · Report this
23
Vehicle weight and mileage, which you mention, are good ways to tax for roads, and actually gas taxes do a semi-decent job of allocating those. Both have large impacts on wear and tear.

That's not true, but mere facts never mattered to a Seattle "progressive," did they? You see, 99% of all vehicle-related pavement damage is caused by heavy trucks and buses. Differentials in weight among cars and light trucks is a bullshit way to allocate anything, because cars, light trucks (and motorcycles and bicycles) don't do any damage to pavement.

Not that this would matter to a "progressive." For you, it's about hating cars, and especially hating SUVs and light trucks.
Posted by Mister G on December 26, 2012 at 1:46 PM · Report this
Pridge Wessea 24
Oh hey, it's Mister G. Someone so embarrassed by his own comments that he's hidden them from view.
Posted by Pridge Wessea on December 26, 2012 at 2:01 PM · Report this
MrBaker 25
@17, actually, I am opposed to a carve out, incentivized, free road to all electric vehicle owners that are consuming the roads.

Yes, the gas tax pays for road maintenance, and yes, electric cars use the roads like everybody else. But they don't generate the same sort of external costs as their gas-fueled cousins, and with only about 1,600 of them currently registered in the state, the additional revenue is barely worth the effort of collecting it. It's just hard to see the value of levying this particular fee at this particular time.

This "hardly worth the time" thing is the same thing every person getting a little tax break in Olympia says. Hey, ST's B&O tax break is hardly anything.
The fact that it is hardly anything does not mean that it should not be collected.

We largely agree, except on your example and its use in your argument, other than that, ya, we need a better method for funding the roads we all benefit from.

Fwiw, Lighter and less expensive vehicles tend to use cheaper and less damaging tires, and tires wear by age or driving a bunch of miles.
Until somebody finds a replacement for tires we should tax them a lot. They already have a special tax applied for disposal (which is way too low).
Posted by MrBaker http://manywordsforrain.blogspot.com/ on December 26, 2012 at 2:57 PM · Report this
26
#24, not "embarrassed" at all. For a while I had a "progressive" stalker bitch on my tail, so I thought I'd make her work a little harder.
Posted by Mister G on December 26, 2012 at 4:30 PM · Report this
27
Lighter and less expensive vehicles tend to use cheaper and less damaging tires, and tires wear by age or driving a bunch of miles.

What, no one puts studded tires on a Prius, or chains on their electric car?
Posted by Mister G on December 26, 2012 at 4:48 PM · Report this
MrBaker 28
@27, are you assuming that they are getting studded tires and chains for free?

And you see you @23

That's not true, but mere facts never mattered to a Seattle "progressive," did they? You see, 99% of all vehicle-related pavement damage is caused by heavy trucks and buses. Differentials in weight among cars and light trucks is a bullshit way to allocate anything, because cars, light trucks (and motorcycles and bicycles) don't do any damage to pavement.

Posted by MrBaker http://manywordsforrain.blogspot.com/ on December 26, 2012 at 6:01 PM · Report this
Pridge Wessea 29
@26 - Your mother just wants to know how you're doing.
Posted by Pridge Wessea on December 26, 2012 at 7:29 PM · Report this
30
@27, are you assuming that they are getting studded tires and chains for free?

Of course not.
Posted by Mister G on December 26, 2012 at 9:52 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 31
@26,

You are the dumbest motherfucker on the planet.
Posted by keshmeshi on December 27, 2012 at 12:42 PM · Report this
32
Wow, #31, it's always good for a "progressive" on the Slog to tell me how dumb I am! Thanks! Ya made my day!
Posted by Mister G on December 27, 2012 at 2:40 PM · Report this
33
Putting a premium on heavier cars, buses and Semis is a TERRIBLE idea. Buses take cars of the road, Semi-Trucks are vitarl to commerce. The cost of those taxes would be placed on the consumers. Roads are an investment in the economy of the state. Sacrificing a bit of the general budget for them brings in more cash for the government, and helps keep the cost of living lower for the people.

I suppose if you wanted to tax people's RVs that would make sense but even pickup trucks don't really fuck up the roads that much. Most damage is Semi's, Buses, government vehicles like Garbage Trucks and shit like that.

Think about the HUGE amount of spending to implement to a program like that. Tracking every vehicles weight, and mileage in order to tax people, fucking auditing people to make sure they actually drove that much, or people reducing weight to their cars. You'd have to have scales, fucking all sorts of shit.

FUCKING TERRIBLE idea. Seriously, The Stranger, shut the fuck up sometimes.
Posted by trenchgun on December 30, 2012 at 9:39 AM · Report this

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