By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
They’re going to tax them, too.
You knew this was coming — right?
That they were not going to let you get away with evading paying your “fair share” of motor vehicle fuels taxes by driving a vehicle that uses less (or even no) gas.
That Prius you’re maybe looking at because you’re thinking it’ll reduce the number of FRNs you have to shell out for fuel? It’s about to become the object of special taxes designed to make up for the ones you’re trying to avoid. Every time you fill up, you pay up — about 50 cents per gallon, on average. If you car has a 15 gallon tank, you pay about $8 bucks in taxes at every fill-up. But if you drive a hybrid car that only has a 12 gallon tank — and only needs to be filled up half as often — you’re paying a lot less. Nothing — if you own an electric car.
And that sets off alarms in certain quarters.
Several states have either proposed or are “looking at” additional “fees” — that is, taxes — to be levied upon the owners of hybrids and electric cars, because the growing number of these vehicles is reducing the revenue flowing into state and county coffers via motor fuels taxes. Something called The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy — one of those shill entities that isn’t technically the government but provides the intellectual ammo (PR, really) for government “estimates” that state and local gas tax revenue has declined by 7 percent since 2004 — even as the number of cars in service (and miles driven) has steadily increased.
And the reason why is simply that cars — and not just hybrid cars — are burning less gas. Which means their owners pay less in taxes.
To correct this atrocity, North Carolina (to cite on example) has proposed adding a $100 annual fee to the mandatory annual registration renewal for electric vehicle owners — $50 for hybrid (gas-electric) owners. News story here. One of the proposal’s backers, State Senator Neal Hunt, says “It just seems logical to me that they should pay a small fee for the use of the highways and the wear and tear they put on the highways.”
Hunt’s “small fee” adds up to real money over time. Keep your EV ten years and you’re out of pocket another $1,000 (a mere $500 for hybrid owners). So much for saving money. They’ll get into your wallet one way — or another. At least ten states — at the time this article was written — are considering or have actually passed new laws imposing targeted taxes on the owners of electric and hybrid vehicles. My own state, Virginia, has its hand out for another $64 annually — effectively doubling the cost of annual registration renewal for hybrid and electric vehicle owners. This new tax was supported by Republicans, incidentally.
All this is obnoxious, certainly. But the more worrying thing is that whines for more “revenue” could lead to drive-by-mile taxation — and in-car monitors not just for hybrid and EV owners, but for everyone.
Exactly such a proposal was floated in — where else? — New Jersey. It was defeated after a massive public outcry and replaced by a flat-fee on electric cars.
But this is not going away for good.
Because — irony cue — the very policies so aggressively pursued by the DC Directorate have boomeranged in a way not to their liking.
At least, apparently.
The legislative nudges given to promote EVs and hybrids — everything from million-dollar manufacturer subsidies to individual buyer tax rebates — have done as intended and caused more hybrids and EVs to be made — and bought. On top of this, the ever-upticking fuel economy edicts imposed on the manufacturer of conventional (non-hybrid or EV) cars have likwise resulted in — wait for it, now — the manufacture of more cars that use less gas.
Sum? Less gas is being used in general. Which means, less motor vehicles fuel taxes are being paid.This creates a problem — from the standpoint of government. And government always has a solution.
If laws are passed imposing special road-use taxes (based on miles-driven) upon electric and hybrid vehicles — on the basis of their not “paying their fair share” to use the roads via motor fuels taxes — precisely that argument will be used to tub-thump for similar road-use taxes on ever-more-fuel-efficient non-hybrid/non-electric cars, too.
It will be argued that — for instance — the owner of a new Ford Fiesta that gets 40 MPG isn’t “contributing” enough. Remember: the typical hybrid vehicle is only slightly more fuel efficient. If a 50-something-MPG Prius is in the crosshairs for special taxes on the basis that its owner isn’t paying “enough” in taxes, how long do you suppose it’ll be before the 40 MPG car is in the crosshairs?
Wait a while. It is coming. And not too long from now.
And when it does come, riding shotgun will be mandates for in-car monitoring of how far you drive (and perhaps how often, and even when — as, for example, during “peak” hours). How else, after all, will they keep track of your mileage and usage patterns?
It’s pretty slick. You have to give them that.
First, egg-on the production of hybrids and electrics via artificial inducements and special perks (such as being able to drive in those High Occupancy Vehicle lanes, even if it’s just you in the car). Wait for these unconventional cars to become pretty conventional. Then whine about the “lost revenue” which must be recovered. Meanwhile, pass laws that double (and soon, will triple) the fuel economy of the average non-hybrid car — knowing that will provide even more excuse to whine about all the “revenue” lost.
Then hit them up with the notion of a tax-per-mile. It will not even be necessary to discuss the means by which it’ll be implemented.
That will follow almost automatically.
And — just like that — our freedom of movement will have been stomped as effectively as our privacy, our right to be left the hell alone — and every other one of our former rights you can think of.
Unless we decide we’ve had enough — and are willing, at last, to do something about it.