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Farley: Drivers of electric vehicles should help pay for roads

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Farley: Drivers of electric vehicles should help pay for roads

  • A Tesla 'fuels up.'
    Kanaka Menehune/FlickrA Tesla 'fuels up.'

Rolf Lohr’s purely electric Tesla Roadster sells for more than $100,000, goes from 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds and has a license plate that reads “FUELSUX.”

For Lohr, breaking away from gasoline helps achieve his goal of being carbon-free.

“If I can afford it, I have to do what I can to protect the environment,” he said.

But the 245 miles he gets from a single charge also frees Lohr and other drivers of electric vehicles from a state gasoline tax that funds road improvements.

Anticipating a future in which many more Americans drive electric vehicles, a Democratic state lawmaker is proposing that Lohr and others like him pay a penny-per-mile tax for each mile they drive.

“One of the only ways we pay for our roadways is through gas tax,” said Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson. “If they’re not paying into the gas tax system, we need to find a way of closing that loophole and getting them to pay for the roads they use.”

Farley said HB 2257 is modeled on Oregon legislation that would have electric vehicle drivers pay up to 1.43 cents per mile driven starting with 2014 model year.

A bill before the Washington State Legislature would require electric vehicle owners to pay an annual $100 registration fee in lieu of a gas tax.

Arizona’s gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since the early 1990s, stands at 37.4 cents per gallon. Proceeds cover transportation improvements around the state, including roads and highways.

Lohr, the Tesla driver, said he could understand the tax Farley is proposing if all of the money indeed went toward roads and highways. But he said it would make more sense to tax all vehicles according to fuel efficiency, gesturing toward a passing Hummer to illustrate his point.

“The environmental performance really sucks on those cars,” he said.

Jim Stack, president of the Electric Auto Association’s Phoenix chapter, said drivers of electric vehicles are willing to pay their fair share.

“Someday it’s all going to be hybrids and electric vehicles,” he said. “It wouldn’t do us any good if we didn’t have any roads.”

Diane Brown, executive director of Arizona Public Interest Research Group, said she supports Farley’s proposal but noted that electric vehicles protect air quality and public health.

“Any policy that is accounting for electric vehicles should be incentivizing, not discouraging, their use,” she said.

Alana Chavez-Langdon, vice president of government relations and regulatory affairs at ECOtality Inc., which has installed dozens of public charging stations in Arizona, said taxing electric vehicles right now would send the wrong message to the marketplace. It would make more sense, she said, when the vehicles become common.

“We need to think about the bigger picture of all vehicles paying their fair share to support roads and infrastructure,” she said.

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