(Image via Pittsburgh City Paper)
One of the better developments for a healthy environment in recent years has been the increasing popularity of all-electric and hybrid vehicles.
But they’ve proven a headache for states’ bottom lines, as these high-mileage and fuel-efficient vehicles have taken a bite out of the gas tax revenue that states, including Pennsylvania, rely on to pay for road and bridge repairs.
On Wednesday, a central Pennsylvania lawmaker floated a plan that he says will help bridge the gap by authorizing a five-year pilot program that would levy mileage-based user fees on electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.
“As you know, Pennsylvania funds a substantial portion of its road maintenance with a fuel tax,” Rep. Rich Irvin, R-Huntingdon, wrote in a Wednesday memo to his House colleagues seeking support for his plan.
But, with “over 30,000 motorists driving plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles, we need to ensure that everyone is contributing to the care and maintenance of Pennsylvania roads,” Irvin continued.
Last year, lawmakers in at least eight states — Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington — considered bills that would have modified existing programs or set up new pilot programs to tax drivers of electric vehicles, Stateline.org reported, citing data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks the issue.
Without a change in tax formulas, the current federal and state gasoline taxes will fail to meet the nation’s infrastructure needs, according to Stateline.
Last year, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office year projected that if the 18.4-cent per gallon federal tax remains the same, and infrastructure spending increases at the average projected rate of inflation, the federal Highway Trust Fund will come up about $140 billion short by 2031. The federal gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1993, Stateline reported.
“States recognize that this is an issue, and they need to deal with it sooner rather than later,” NCSL’s transportation program director, Douglas Shinkle, told Stateline. “Implementation of a user fee is going to need public buy-in and political buy-in.”
Irvin’s pilot program, which would be overseen by the state Department of Transportation, would impose either a mileage-based fee or an annual fee that would look like this:
- Plug-in hybrid vehicles: $0.025/mile or a $214 annual fee
- Electric vehicles: $0.031/mile or a $265 annual fee
If a vehicle owner chooses the mileage-based fee, “they will not be required to pay more than the annual fee for their vehicle type, nor will they be required to install a GPS-style device that tracks their travel,” Irvin wrote.
The latter is a reference to the privacy concerns that have been raised about tracking drivers’ mileage in other states.
Last year, Virginia passed a law stating that any data collected under that state’s pilot fee-per-mile program may not be sold, accessed through a public records request, or used for any purpose other than to collect unpaid fees, according to Stateline. The law also gives residents the option to participate without location tracking, the online news organization added.
According to the National Association of State Budget Officers’ 2021 State Expenditure Report, motor fuel taxes make up nearly 40 percent of state transportation funding sources, Stateline reported. State officials expect that percentage to decline steadily in the next decade.
“States are concerned that in the long term, the current structure of state and federal fuel tax revenue will not be able to meet transportation needs as most gas taxes are set at fixed rates and do not rise with inflation,” the association wrote in its report, according to Stateline. “New vehicle fuel economy continues to increase, and the growth in vehicle miles traveled has leveled off.”
While Pennsylvania has an alternative fuels tax on the books, the levy is “notoriously cumbersome, convoluted, and difficult to enforce,” Irvin wrote in his cosponsorship memo.
The mileage-based fees “have been classified as a more sustainable revenue source for electric vehicles,” and the proposed pilot program is “one that is fair, reliable, and better equips our transportation agencies to plan for road maintenance,” Irvin argued.
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