Improving roads and bridges with fees collected by a mileage-based usage system as an alternative to raising federal fuel taxes is on the table as Congress begins fresh debates over how to pay for infrastructure. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a Washington, D.C.-based libertarian think tank, sent a letter to Congress today asking lawmakers to support a voluntary nationwide user-pay pilot program, for both cars and heavy-duty trucks – asserting that fuel taxes will become increasing regressive as vehicles become more fuel-efficient.
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Drivers who make the switch to an electric vehicle from a gasoline-powered car stand to save big on fuel spending. Roads, meanwhile, lose out on a revenue-generating opportunity. The rise of EVs has prompted an important question for U.S. policymakers: How should EV owners pay for use of the roads if they aren't contributing via the gas tax? Nearly two years ago, then-California Governor Jerry Brown signed a road-funding bill, SB 1, that included a $100 annual registration fee for zero-emission vehicles. By the end of 2018, 21 states had adopted similar registration fees on electric vehicles in an effort to replace lost fuel taxes paid at the pump.
Washington state’s gasoline tax — second highest in the nation at 49.4 cents a gallon — hits hardest those who drive old vehicles. Cars, trucks and SUVs built many years ago are not nearly as fuel efficient as newer vehicles. As a result, those with inefficient cars are paying the most to maintain the state’s roadways. Is that fair? Of course not. And that’s why the state of Washington has been working to figure out a better way to fund road projects.
Since electric vehicles use no gasoline, their drivers pay no gasoline tax. And as more people drive EVs, gas-tax revenue for road repairs is dwindling. So how can California and the rest of the country avoid road-funding shortfalls and ensure that EV drivers pay their share of needed repairs? A research report submitted to the California Legislature this week by the University of California, Davis’ Institute of Transportation Studies proposes an innovative solution: Switch EVs to a mileage fee while continuing to have gasoline-powered cars pay gasoline taxes.
When I was running for state representative for Birmingham, I knocked on a lot of doors. Some clear top issues emerged: roads, roads and roads. Everyone I talked to agreed that Michigan, the state that built the first concrete paved road in the nation, should be able to maintain its roads to an acceptable standard. Unfortunately, to date, this has not been the case.
It’s past time to start testing a vehicle miles-traveled (VMT) fee. We need a reliable and fair way to fund transportation, and the gas tax is in long-term decline.